Saturday, November 29, 2014

Sometimes you really do just have to show up. Surprising In Guatemala

Written while in Denver airport: (forgive my errors, this was from my phone). Soon more pictures.

Wednesday evening my parents and I left my appointment. I held my head high, diplomatically discussed my options about treatment until I gazed down at my phone and I was bombarded with posts of my best friends in Guatemala celebrating Stephanie's upcoming wedding. The tears began to fall. How is it that I sit here learning whether I will undergo chemotherapy? or how Likely it is my Cancer to return? And I am not  there..... I should be there. I hate this. I thought. I don't want to be here. My head aches and my heart throbbed.

My parents and I sat at a 
Restaurant where I leaned in to the side of my dad at the booth, as I desperately wanted to have someone hold me, draw me close and like a father should, make everything go away.

I laid on his shoulder and cried. We sat in silence. 

I made myself pick something to eat although it was last thing I wanted to do. We got to our hotel and continuing discussing everything we had learned at the doctor. I finally pleaded at my parents. "And now now... Barely able to utter the words It is killing me, that I cannot be at Stephanie's wedding Saturday" and I began to cry harder as my mom held me. In silence my parents agreed. This sucks. 

That evening I slept surprisingly well, my emotions at a high, my slumber just seemed to come easy. I awoke and I had received messages from my parents. Asking if I was awake? (Sent at 5:39 am). I received a different message saying happy thanksgiving. Not thinking much of it.

I let them know I was making coffee and was going to write on my blog (yesterday's medical post).
My dad calls me and says I need to check my email, that my mom had sent me something. Again not suspecting much, my parents often share others wells wishes with me by forwarding messages.... I opened the email. To my utter shock I began to read what was a flight confirmation to Guatemala City. Leaving the next day 

Without being able to utter a sound I burst into tears and shouted oh my gosh! Oh my gosh! My dad in tears through the phone said. I did it last night. I couldn't help but be awake all night knowing how upset you were that you were missing the wedding so I decided to look at flights. Your mom and I have been awake all night and couldn't wait for you to wake up. We think you are well enough to travel and come back Monday.

As you can imagine I cried and shouted and am still in shock.

Right now I am sitting in the Denver airport waiting to board my flight to Houston. From there I go to Guatemala City. 

Yesterday I arranged for a private driver to take me to Antiqua so I can drop my luggage at her hotel and walk in on the cocktail rehearsal. (I have all the details from my original itinerary).  I can barely type this without crying thinking about seeing my best friends face. Having no idea I am on my.Yesterday my mom helped me try on my bridesmaid dress that I had already dry cleaned) and in a plastic bag. Scared it would not fit because of my surgery, we were fully prepared to go to Macy's at midnight should need. (Lucky for us today is Black Friday). I told my mom I didn't care if I wore a sheet. I just wanted to be there. But alas my dress fit perfectly. 

So you can imagine my excitement. This morning my mom was my salon, stylist plucking my 
eyebrows and painting my nails while I made sure I had everything I needed.

Pickup writing in Houston:

I just looked at some more pictures that the girls have taken from today. I can't even look at them without a grin. Last night I told Stephanie's mom via text, so she was aware that I am coming. Just in case I am delayed or I had trouble with transportation. Her messages in response made me Cry. Happy tears of course.

I leave here in two hours. I am feeling a bit drowsy and tired so am going to rest my feet for a bit. I have carried on my bag only so that as soon as I land I can head straight for customs and meet my driver to arrive in Guatemala. I just want to scream in excitement :)

A funny tidbit, Stephanie had sent me my bridesmaid present to open tonight (while they open there gifts in Guatemala). Well I decided I would open mine yesterday so I could pack it with me. I am sending her a picture right now of me opening it. Saying thank you and that I love it. Of course she will think the picture is taken right now. Me in my basement :) hehehe if she only knew.I am on my plane leaving now.... Finally. A slight delay and I thought I would jump through the cockpit and tell them we have to go now because I am surprising my friends. Praying for a quicker flight :) and speedy customs. As well that my driver is prompt and out waiting for me.

Writing this morning:I just woke up next to Stephanie. and wished her a happy wedding day.  When I landed in Guatemala City I ran through the airport (best I could). I was one of the first through customs. Once I found my driver I got in his car explained the occasion. He said he would drive faster than normal. In true nascar fashion, I arrived in 20 minutes instead of the 45 minutes. The driver unable to pull in front of the hotel said I am sorry miss you must walk. I said it's ok and darted off. 

Upon walking in the hotel Stephanie's mom, the Holloways and Christie Lee's parents were standing there. We screamed and cried. Sheri said Stephanie is in her room so she would take me up there. I stayed back behind her, and waited behind this pole. Sheri said Stephanie come out I have something to show you. As she walked closely, I came around the corner and without words we both just hugged and cried. A few oh my 
gosh but mostly tears. 

From there I walked to the room where my friends from high school are staying. They opened the door and looked at Stephanie and noticed me standing behind her. Then words of oh my gosh and I can't believe 
you're here. I cried and said I know .... me too.

I am going to stop there because I need to shower because I have a wedding to get ready for. Prayers for a day of feeling well (even if I watch from the dance floor) and for just being present here..... 

Sometimes you just really do have to show up. 

Love Kristina 

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Finding thanks in the news you did not want to hear

Thanksgiving, a tradition that looks different for my family today....

Yesterday, I received the news that I did not want to hear. As so many of you have been praying, and sending your love... please know that I am still grateful. 

I just may need your support for a bit longer.

My test came back at, number 24. Devised by taking a specific look at the genes in my tumor, the number indicates my chance of recurrence and aggressiveness of the cancer. This number placed me in the intermediate range.

I have been recommended to undergo chemotherapy. Four rounds, of a low dose starting in January, to be finished by March. (assuming I respond well). I will loose my hair and could undergo early menopause. But overall my doctor predicts I will respond well to the treatment and the long term affects on my body would be minimal. 

If I had fallen below the number 20 (low range) studies indicate I would not benefit from chemotherapy at all. Had I fallen in the high range (30+) studies indicate that I would absolutely benefit from chemotherapy.  But I fell in the middle....

Statistically, by taking tamoxifen for the next five years (drug to reduce chance of recurrence) and not undergo chemotherapy,  I have a 15% chance of my cancer returning. By undergoing chemotherapy, in addition to tamoxifen, I can reduce that number to 9%.

At this time I have chosen to move forward with chemotherapy. In tears I told the doctor, I have so much life ahead of me. (I just turned 27).  I don't want this to return. I want to do everything I can to make sure that it does not. She without telling me I absolutely had to do something, strongly recommended that chemotherapy would be the best choice.

As you can imagine this is a bigger decision than to succumb to a few words, so forgive me for my bluntness. Throughout our appointment, looking at my results and discussing options my heart rested in one place. I asked the doctor if there were holistic things I could be doing, or life changes I could make but nothing was able to guarantee that my cancer would be gone forever. She admired my question, knowing it came from the heart but there was nothing she could say to erase the reality. 

So this thanksgiving I am seeking gratefulness. That I get to chose about my future. That the cancer is gone and medicine is available to make certain it doesn't comes back. I am grateful that God loves me in this brokenness and that he has fastened my heart so delicately that it is like no other.

Thank you for reading. For praying and helping me be grateful, even though this news was not what I had hoped for. I am heartbroken and disappointed. For moments, I thought this journey might be coming to a soon end, it appears it is still just beginning. 

My parents are here in Colorado and we will spend Thanksgiving together with our long time family friends. 

Happy Thanksgiving to all of you. 

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

My hope for tommorow

Last Saturday,  I was to be on a plane heading to Antigua, Guatemala for the week. My best friend since I can remember is getting married to the love of her life this coming Saturday. Friends since middle school, we have a decade plus of memories. Stephanie and I share a unique bond because while I lived in Honduras we had the joy of being central american neighbors. (she lives in Guatemala permanently and teaches fourth grade). The trip planned months ago was one that I looked forward too. A return to a part of the world that I hold dear and a wedding sure to be beautiful.

One month ago I cancelled that flight.

Sunday evening while resting, my computer alerted me of an incoming Skype video call. I answered and smiled at the screen as three of my dear friends, sitting together in Guatemala City enthusiastically said "Hi!" through the computer screen. As though we were together. For the first few moments it made me feel like I was not so far away. I smiled and fought back the tears.

I told myself don't cry. It's not their fault you are not there. They are sad too. This head talk I gave myself only made it worse. Shortly after my mom took over the conversation, while I left the room and lowered my head to tears. I allowed my tears to fall in the bathroom so they could not hear me.... and they could not see. I looked in the mirror as water filled up my big brown eyes and I was just short of screaming.... When your best friend gets married, you show up. You wear the dress in the color she requested and walk down the aisle to stand at her side. That is what you do. But this time I don't get too. Sure, I have a travel voucher now that I must redeem before August. Which means a fun trip abroad to plan, but when its not the trip you wanted, the joy of planning some place to go in exchange loses its value. The truth of the matter is that I am missing her wedding day.

The hardest part of cancer is it has wreaked so much of who I thought I was. The type A, on time planner was put on the shelf with this diagnosis. When I was diagnosed with cancer I was not given instructions. There is no manual to doing this. There is no warning of when I will break down in tears. There are no guarantees. Doctors can't give me a checklist to ensure I heal properly. My emotions ebb and flow just as the wind blows and my attempts at normalcy seemed to be knocked down in the tidal wave of the unknown.

Tomorrow I will find out my test result regarding my tumor. I will learn whether I have to undergo chemotherapy. Whether I have to start the egg harvesting process. Whether I will loose my hair.

Today I am afraid. Today I am sad. Today I don't know how to do this.

And today I have learned why loving Jesus and choosing to follow him is the hardest. Because you have to believe when you don't want to. And you have to trust. You have to admit that you are not the one writing the story but someone else is.

If you're praying for me, or lifting me up in your thoughts regarding tommorow, my hope is not for a specific result, but that I have peace in whatever the result is. That I rejoice in Thanksgiving on Thursday regardless of what I find out tomorrow. If you could do that for me. Rather than try and control the outcome, help me choose how I respond to the outcome.

My dad lands this afternoon and as the little girl that has always been told I look just like my dad I cannot wait for him to arrive.

Surely we have reason to give great thanks this holiday.... regardless of the outcome.

Below are some pictures of Stephanie (the one getting married this weekend). One from a very long time ago and two from our time in Antigua together two years ago. The beautiful cobblestone streets will be where she will take her wedding photos this weekend.

Sophomore year of high school I think before the dance. 

Stephanie and I, in Antiqua two years ago this Thanksgiving. 
When we both called Central America Home.

Stephanie and I outside of Antigua after we climbed the Volcano. 
How I wish I were to be there this weekend to do this all over again.

I am getting ready for a "fill up" this afternoon and then to pick up my dad. Will write soon. Thank you again.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Showing up without permission

The cancer phone call was just as shocking as the cancer free phone call. I barely had time to process that I had cancer before they told me the cancer was gone.

The beautiful gift of cancer is it gives you perspective. Perspective to look back at what has been and a chance to look forward to what will be. What will my life be lived for? How do I want to embrace others? How will I live beyond this?

After my surgery I was asked to be the subject in a memoir. The person asking was a boy, a sophomore in high school who I had the privilege of being the nanny for when when he was ten years old. He brought me to tears by simply asking the question. I replied yes. What an honor I thought. Why me? Just days after he asked, he sent me his first draft. He provided a disclaimer "Enjoy". I smiled. Enjoy? How could I not? You are choosing to honor me by writing about me..... enjoy is the very least thing I could do.

His words..... his retelling of the time I spent one summer with him and his sister. His retelling of moments I do not remember, only brought on the flood gates..... humbled in my tears he concluded his paper with these words, "Kristina gave me the greatest gift anyone can get: SHE BELIEVED IN ME."

I do not share this with you to boast, but only to highlight something that walking through cancer has taught me. Sometimes the greatest gift we can give to people is to simply show up and to believe in others.

This is what you have done for me. Your continued words, the meals, the hugs, the messages, the phone calls give me no other reason than to fight. They give me every reason to believe this has got to be something good. That God is moving and working in the lives of everyone always.

Monday, I celebrated my twenty seventh birthday. In the company of fifteen of my closest friends in Colorado, we shared a meal. One of my favorite things to do. Hosted at my best friend from colleges house, my roommate and her boyfriend (self taught gourmet chefs) prepared a delicious Michelin star worthy meal. A roast placed on a bed of polenta, roasted butternut squash, fresh bread and bacon potato soup. The meal was contributed to by a dear friend (former roommate) Katie and appetizers provided by my cousin, his wife and Sidney my current roommate. The meal labored in love was a meal I will forever remember. We stood in a circle, Jameson prayed as tears fell down my cheeks. He offered, Thanksgiving for the people in the room, for the meal set before us and for the cancer free me. Following our prayer a toast was given in my honor. "Kristina you have had the grace of Audrey Hepburn and the strength of Athena. I have watched you come out of this with even more grace and beauty than before."

From the depth of my heart, I say thank you. For all of you walking in this with me. For giving me the boost to walk into the doctor every week with a smile on my face. To do what I never imagined being able to do. But, for more than anything being vulnerable and honest. For drawing close to my story when it would have been much easier to walk away. For sharing your time, your energy and your truth.

Just last weekend Kylie, my dear friend who I lived with in Honduras flew in from Austin. Without so much as a question she booked a flight. Just to be here with me. With no expectation to see Colorado, but to just sit at my side. Help me get dressed. Comb and blow dry my hair.

Sometimes people just need you to show up. Thank you Kylie for doing that. For knowing what I needed even when I wasn't sure what I needed myself.

My sister as well joined in for the weekend, so we could delight in her growing baby bump, the future of her family and all that has happened in the past few weeks. It was a really great weekend.

My hope for each of you reading is that you continue to do what you have done for me, for others. May you have the courage to draw close to others when they need it most.

Cancer doesn't have to happen for you to do that. Being alive demands that we do that.

This morning I am sitting in a hotel in Vail, Colorado looking out at the snow covered mountains. My mom drove me up here for a change of scenery. Some fresh mountain air. I hope to get in some reading and some rest. I continue to focus on healing.

I have an important update. My follow up appointment regarding my tumor has been moved to Wednesday, November 26. The day before Thanksgiving. Regardless of the outcome, regardless of chemo or no chemo. I will continue to choose Thanksgiving for all that has happened.

Have a really wonderful Friday everyone.

Kylie pushing me at the mall.

My sister and me.

Candice and TJ preparing birthday dinner. Thank you Erin for the party hats.

Erin and I at my birthday dinner.

Homemade chocolate cake prepared especially for me by Meghan Beans.

I sent cupcakes to my office on my birthday. A small role I play in the office is coordinating birthday cakes for office celebrations. In lieu of my absence and to express my gratitude for all that they have done while I am away recovering I wanted them to celebrate my birthday for me. This was the picture they took. Thank you Baceline!

Driving up to Vail yesterday.

Mom and I eating lunch at the base of the mountain, before we retreated to our hotel room. 

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Medical Update. Cancer Healing

Yesterday was two weeks out...

I am awake early this morning (in my house) mostly because sleeping is difficult. At this time in my recovery, I am working weekly with the plastic surgeon through expansion. At the time of my surgery once all breast tissue was removed, my plastic surgeon placed two "space holders" (expanders) in my breasts. These space holders will remain for 3-4 months/ potentially longer should chemotherapy be deemed necessary. Every Tuesday I go in, and he via needle inserts more saline into the expander. This process is used to expand my skin and muscle to later prepare for an implant. I had been told this process would be the most painful and turns out it is. 

I have tried to describe what it feels like but have had trouble finding the words. Some days it is as though someone took saran wrap and wrapped you up in it tight and is pulling from behind you. Other days as my doctor says, "it feels like an elephant is sitting on your chest". Either way it hurts and I don't like it.

For the most part, this process continues to go well. My doctor continues to compliment me on my progress, how well my skin looks and how well I am healing. I attribute this to the 80/20 vegan diet and drinking tons of water. The alkaline rich vegetables and eliminating all hormone induced dairy/meats insures my body is getting nutrient dense foods to heal.  Many friends have complimented my skin and how good it looks...... my first reaction is to say it is the food I have been eating..... but then i remember I have only showered about three times in two weeks and put on makeup once. (surely that helps the pores a little bit). :)

Overall, things are progressing above schedule. My original four drains have now all been removed. (quicker than the predicted 3-4 weeks they advised). The fluid that my body was riding off will now be absorbed naturally, so drinking lots of water is a must to keep this happening.  Hooray for no more drains, tubes, or feeling like an octopus!!!

The only downside to the expansion process occurs when I am in the doctors office. Last Tuesday, I made sure to close my eyes as he placed the needle on my chest and inserted saline. It is an uncomfortable feeling but nothing I cannot bare. Moments after they were finished with the "fill up" I began to feel light headed. I spoke up to my doctor and they quickly got me on a monitor. My blood pressure had dropped and I was certain I was to faint. I took many deep breaths closed my eyes as my mom held my left hand and my doctor came around and held my right. Fortunately, after staying in the doctors office for an hour or so, some sprite and graham crackers I was feeling much better. 

As for this Tuesday, the story was not much different. I went in at 9 am for my expansion and immediately following I had a follow up appointment at the hospital with my breast surgeon, Dr. Moore. I arrived at the hospital and was brought back to see her. As we discussed my healing and how often I will be seeing her moving forward the room began to spin. I apologized for interrupting and said I am sorry I am afraid I may faint. She quickly had me lay back. 

I am not sure if I need to be eating more before these visits (my breakfasts these days are typically small) or if it is just the pressure from the saline fill, but for whatever reason my body is not handling this process well.

For the days in between appointments I am focusing on healing, resting, watching Scandal and reading. My tumor as previously mentioned has been sent off for the Oncotype DX Test. This test result determines the following:

  • To help doctors figure out a woman’s risk of early-stage, estrogen-receptor-positive breast cancer coming back (recurrence), as well as how likely she is to benefit from chemotherapy after breast cancer surgery.
  • To help doctors figure out a woman’s risk of DCIS (ductal carcinoma in situ) coming back (recurrence) and/or the risk of a new invasive cancer developing in the same breast,
I have a follow up appointment scheduled for December 4. I am hoping this result is something I can find out over the phone but at this time am not sure.

In regarding the fertility preservation I have received all of my fertility medicines in advance. I got a giant package that includes all shots and medicines necessary to begin the egg harvesting process. I am holding on to them at this time. Until I know for certain I will undergo chemotherapy, I keep these refrigerated for hopefully to put in the trash can :) (meaning I do not need chemo, therefore no fertility medicine).

I apologise for my delayed writing, I do want to share about how I spent my birthday and my weekend with my sister and dear friend from Austin, Kylie who came to visit. I will be doing this hopefully later today. As well as an update on how I am. This post I call a business post, an update on the medical side. As many of you know the medical side does not necessarily correlate with my emotional side.

I am heading to my first physical therapy appointment this morning and from there, my mom and I are are driving to Vail. What better place to recover and look at the mountains than in Vail.  Just for one night but we are looking forward to it.

Thank you again for following. If any of you have specific questions regarding my healing, procedure sand my doctors please feel free to send me an email. I would be more than happy to answer those if I can...

Have a great Thursday everyone.

Here are some photos I have not yet shared.... throw back thursday if you will.

Meagan and I the morning after my surgery.

My marking indicating breast cancer side, the morning before my surgery.

Me the night after I was released from surgery.

Monday, November 17, 2014

A letter to myself on my Birthday

To My 27th Self on your Birthday,

Today you rest your head more than you wish you had to. You have two tubes coming out of the sides of your body, bottles of medicine and a cup of coffee in your hand. I know full well how difficult this is for you but trust me that it is just a day, just a moment and it too shall pass. Perhaps a quiet simple birthday is just what the doctor ordered (pun intended). I decided for your birthday I would write you a letter. An ode to the year ahead and my hopes for you. Today on your birthday may you trust more than ever, that the days to come will bring more joy, more peace, more tears but above all more goodness, God's goodness in your life. 

May this year you grant yourself grace. Grace to fall to your knees, in tears over what is to come. May you allow the tears to fall in the most unlikely of places, in front of the most unlikely of people. Will you let others wipe the tears. Will you grieve. Allow yourself to grieve.

Will you move towards others, inviting others to this story. Know that you cannot do this alone. Know that this is not how God intended our lives to be lived...... alone. You are in this with others, so allow others in. 

Will you dare great things, will you follow your heart to the deep ends of the earth. Go on adventures, plan a trip and have adventures in the spaces that you occupy. Adventure doesn't have to mean a passport stamp but challenging yourself beyond your limits. This year do just that. Dare greatly.

With the same intention you seek great things, will you protect your heart? You are created to be something great, crafted and designed with unique intention. Trust that intention, trust your heart. Care for your heart because it is all you have, you only get one. Boundaries are ok and you have permission to create some.

Will you slow down. Slow down to look strangers in the eyes. But more than that, slow down for yourself. So much life passes in your rushing. One of your favorite quotes says, "I cannot think of a single advantage I've ever gained from being in a hurry. But a thousand broken and missed things, tens of thousands, lie in the wake of all the rushing." Look at what you do this year and the intention behind it. Delight in the things you want to do, not those things you think you must do. 

Be patient, there will be days you wish that weren't there, days you wish you didn't have to walk through. But trust. Trust that the walking through the hard is still moving to something good. 

Love yourself especially your body. Your body is going to change. It looks different today and it will look different tomorrow. Honor your body for being strong, for battling disease and for fighting back. Allow your body to heal, to change and to be what it is, the living and breathing life that means you are still here. Rest in that. And if it shall come that you lose your hair believe youre still beautiful even if it is the hardest thing to do. Believe it to be true...... 

Above all of these things I hope this year you move towards Jesus. Know that he wrote this story long before you were born and trust he is still writing..... I hope this year you go to him for answers, in your anger, in your joy, in your fear and in your heartache.... 

"Gods purposes in present grief may not be fully known in a week, in a year or even in this lifetime." Wayne Gordem

This year may you know friendship, community and the grace that is granted even in the midst of hard. This year will be hard, but never forget that it will be good. It is destined to be good. Because God is always good. "He is showing you what love really looks like and he is building a depth of beauty into your story that life without suffering you would never have known." Kara Tippetts

Seek joy this year and love all that is the next year..... even the very hard that is breaking your heart in this moment. And smile lots, everyone loves a good smile and you have a good one, even when you have cancer, your smile is contagious.

The you that is writing at this very moment

Thursday, November 13, 2014

My Weeping in the Midst of Recovery and Fertility News

I often find myself in tears without explanation. Last evening Rachel came downstairs, I was sitting alone. She asked if I needed something. I lowered my head as my tears fell from my eyes. I began to cry just as I am writing this at this very moment. I curled in tight and she came in close. I cried harder.

My tears, my weeping, are the outcry of my heart. I explained to Rachel how much I hate this. That this hurts. I look in the mirror and the physical self is no longer someone I recognize. I look down to my feet and my drains dangle, evidence of surgery. I am unable to dress alone and have to ask for someone to help me put on my shirt. My arms are limited.

My body recovering remarkably well, is only a shell of what is inside..... a broken heart, of a girl that was once fearless. That lived boldly. That couldn't wait for the next plane to catch to explore more of this world. That stood on chairs to sing songs about the alphabet and the days of the week in a second grade classroom in Honduras. That tried and tried again surfing in Nicaragua until I decided a pina colada was a better alternative than being tossed by the waves. Just five weeks ago I rode my bike for nearly thirty miles and laughed in the sun as the joy that was that day.........

I never knew brokenness until this diagnosis. I never knew hurt. I also never truly knew joy either.

For some of you just finding your way to my story, may not know that when I started high school, when someone asked me where I wanted to go to school I said Colorado. I was confident, stubborn and dreamed of mountains, skiing on weekends and meeting a mountain man. I was what probably most high school girls are, always planning and dreaming. By high school graduation I graduated with honors, was chosen as the high school graduation speaker and in August my parents loaded my car and brought me to Colorado for college. My plans were falling in line. By the time I graduated from college I had lived in Amsterdam, traveled to European towns alone on the weekends, skied the Rockies and made Denver home. I quickly learned my wandering heart and the Lord was not done with me yet. (Turns out he never is). Summer of 2012 I decided to quit my good job and head to Central America. My heart longed to make a difference, for adventure and to go against the grain, so I did just that. The year abroad originally documented through this blog brought me great joy and again God continued to mold me.

Just months ago, I selfishly told myself that I did well. I got my adventure out of me. I lived abroad. I traveled alone. I quit a job. I got a new job and that now it was my time. Time to settle in. To dive head into a career. To grow up, so to speak. I spent the last year in counseling. Addressing a part of who I was that I had been ashamed to deal with. October 9, 2014 marked one year of hard work in counseling. Hard self work for one year........ So yes, selfishly I felt like it was my turn. My turn for something good. That I made sacrifices and now things were to be looking up. I was going to be an aunt this year and perhaps maybe I would even meet someone........ but then the dreaded C word came out of left field. CANCER. I was diagnosed with Breast Cancer.

Today I find myself in tears for what has passed, for what is to come and tears of my ignorance.

But perhaps what the real story in all of this, is the story of Grace. Of God's unending grace in the midst of life's hard. How all along God knew that this was going to be my story. That all along he has tried and tried to tell me that he has good plans, even great plans for me, but that if I stopped trying so da* hard that maybe I could see it all take place.

A friend of mine gave me the book called, The Hardest Peace. In this book it tells the real story of a mom of four, diagnosed with Stage IV Breast Cancer, at the age of 36. I would tell any and all of you to read of her story. It is truly remarkable. In this she references, Nancy Guthrie in this quote;

"But I believe Gods plans for me are better than what I could plan for myself, rather than run away from the path he has set before me, I want to run toward it. I dont want to try to change Gods mind- his thoughts are perfect. I want to think his thoughts. I dont want to change God's timing- his timing is perfect. I want the grace to accept his timing. I want to embrace his plan and see how he is glorified through it. I want to submit."

I want to submit so that I can learn. That I can learn to not live in fear that this cancer will return. For hoping that one day I may look in the mirror and see me, the bold, confident me that is and has always been there. For the children I hope to one day I get to carry. For the children I will never get to breast feed. For that if someday I do find myself with this diagnosis again that I may find more joy in it.  Although I find difficulty walking into a church and even praying, God has a special way of meeting me right where I am today.

Just moments ago my phone rang and my application to the LiveStrong organization has been approved. Through this application I have been given a large monetary discount for fertility preservation. All fertility medication is paid for to move forward with egg harvesting.

My cancer tumor has been sent off for an additional testing and on December 4 I follow up with my oncologist to find out my full treatment plan moving forward. The cancer has been removed but depending on the results of this test, I will know if chemotherapy would benefit me. (testing on my chances of recurrence and aggressiveness of the cancer). If I am recommended chemotherapy and were to move forward with treatments, I have an 80% chance of becoming sterile. (hence the meeting weeks ago with the fertility doctor). Chemotherapy most often sends women into early menopause, so if I want to one day carry my own children the recommendation is to harvest eggs prior to chemotherapy treatments.

I am still continuing to pray and process through this decision and I appreciate your consideration as this is a very sensitive topic. As well chemotherapy may not be recommended for me at all and therefore this discussion may never have to take place again. :)

I am sorry for my delayed writings. I had a great follow up with my plastic surgeon on Tuesday, including my first fill up of saline. (yes it is just as it sounds). Unfortunately this process has been more painful than my recovery from surgery.

My old roommate from Honduras flies in tonight Kylie and my sister tomorrow so you can imagine my excitement to lay around and watch movies with both of them.

I sincerely hope wherever you are in your day and regardless of your beliefs that you know I am beyond grateful that each of you are out there, cheering, lifting, jumping and celebrating life with me. It is indeed a gift and something that even in the midst of hard can be great joy.

Prior to removal of two drains and saline fill up.

Saline injections....

Empty drains. Thought this is better to look at them when they are filled up.

Me prior to heading to Hobby Lobby with Rachel and my mom while they wheeled me in the wheelchair.

I was freezing (9 degrees in Denver). Not the best photo but ah well.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

The good news that is is hard to celebrate

At 7:48 am this morning my phone alerted me with a voicemail from my breast surgeon Dr. Moore... my pathology report had come back. She started the message with "I have great news!". I quickly turned my phone on speaker so my mom could listen along......

My seven lymph nodes were confirmed negative for cancer.  My doctor confirmed that my choice to do "skin sparing" (removing of my nipples) was a good choice because the cancer had moved into my left nipple so it would have had to be removed anyway. (This helped explain the pain I was feeling around this area). Additionally my clear margins confirmed no radiation.  All good news.

We finished listening to the voicemail and my mom and I looked at each other.  I barely took a smile. My mom overjoyed looked at my somber face. Taking a deep breath, I said "that's good news". My mom not convinced of my reaction, asked me what is wrong. I tried to not cry.

I went on to explain as best I could..... It is not that I am not happy...... I am. It is just that phone calls like this are still hard to process. Good news, bad news it's still news about cancer. Me. That I have breast cancer. (or did). I should say.

So while I attempt to recover and process this emotional journey, forgive me for not jumping up in down at good news. I just can't do it. At least today I can't.

But know that you have my full permission to do so for me.....

Your prayers, your thoughts are felt and so appreciated.

I am curled up on the couch, bandaged laying next to my mom and Rachel. Goodnight everyone.

***I will update later on my follow up appointment that took place today at the Plastic Surgeon. As well as my moms spin around Nordstrom in a wheelchair for a change of scenery.

Monday, November 10, 2014

A different kind of Fall

**** I started this blog last evening

Fall has always been my very favorite time of year. Being a girl who adores football and the changing of the seasons, crunchy leaves I have always thought are the best. Watching this fall from the inside of a house takes on a whole new view. Fall also means the coming of my birthday. I always felt that my birthday (November 17) was perfect timing. Typically, should the calendar fall appropriately, Thanksgiving comes the following week after my birthday and then we dive into all things Christmas.

However this season is so different...... At this moment my legs are propped up on my moms lap. I can see her fighting tears in her eyes, only because she can see the tears streaming mine. We sit without much to do, not saying much at all. Waiting on healing. Frozen in time. Sleeping terribly at night. Typically around 2 or 3 I start to shuffle in my sleep and before I even call her name my mom is at my side to help me to the bathroom. Our night ritual typically involves the bathroom, me taking some pain medication, my mom kissing me on the forehead and asking how I feel. I nod my head and attempt to lay down so I am sitting up properly. Sleeping on my side is not an option, fortunately soon after I am able to fall asleep upright..... It is as though I have become a child again. 

I often wonder what she and my dad are thinking.... probably not far from what I am thinking. How did we get here? What happened? In so many ways my surgery seems as though it happened ages ago but then I look down and remember I cannot feel anything in my chest, it is numb. If I feel closely I can feel the plastic tubing (drain) weaved throughout my chest. My range of motion is limited to about 90 degrees and the deeper I breath the more pressure it puts on my chest. Yawns are the worst. All of these things remind me that surgery was less than a week ago.

**** This I wrote this morning

For the past few mornings I am woken up with coffee either from my mom, dad, best friend Rachel (we are staying at her house) or Erin who has been staying here. My mom assists in emptying my drains first thing, to measure the fluid. Yesterday I washed my hair for the first time. In the sink of course. Never knew how wet hair could feel so good. A temporary sort of clean, that for few moments makes me feel like I am a girl again.

Tonight I am sitting next to my mom as she reads through the countless cards I have received. We find great comfort in re-reading them, knowing that others are in this with me. Rachel and Erin are working on their laptops in between responding to my requests. (water, kombucha, chap stick....). I appreciate patience as visitors slowly make their way to see me. As you could have guessed I am not very good at resting and realized this morning I have not taken a nap yet. My body this morning I believe was asking for it.  My stomach was unsettled. I found myself sitting on the floor in the bathroom leaning over a small bucket unsure what were tears or saliva before I was going to get sick. Afraid of getting sick I began to pray...... someone recently shared with me that perhaps praying doesn't look as conventional as we think it should. Between tears and pleas with my heart aches...... I remember that this journey is just beginning. Praying for peace, for rest and to know that the greatest author is still writing the greatest story for me in my future.....

So each time I try to pick something up, or walk up and down the stairs I am trying to slow down and to be still. Allow my body to heal.....

I read this today and I really like it....

"To be alive is to be broken. And to be broken is to stand in the need of grace. Honesty keeps us in touch with our neediness and the trust that we are saved sinners. There is a beautiful transparency to honest disciples who never wear a false face and do not pretend to be anything but who they are." Brennan Manning.

I am certainly not pretending, I am just still coming to terms that I have breast cancer and four days ago I had a double mastectomy. Taking deep breaths..... (just not too deep, it hurts).

Crossift Coaches come bearing gifts.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Brokenhearted Smile

It was sunny and nearly 70 degrees today. I woke up after a not very good nights sleep. It seems something is always pinching me, or hurting. The sunshine through the windows made me want to go run outside but I was quickly reminded that I am restricted by eight different cords that are pinned to my clothes and around my neck. I stood on Rachel's back porch and looked to the sky with my eyes closed and took a deep breath....... How quickly my reality has changed.

Last evening before going to bed my positive outlook came crashing down as I leaned into my moms shoulders and cried. Frustrated with the drains hanging down and the pain in my chest. The thing matter how well I am doing physically, I am still heartbroken.  My chest doesn't look the same. I can't go to the bathroom without assistance. My stomach aches. Nothing tastes good and deep down I wonder how I am to keep doing this. I may be cancer free but I am still not myself. I will never be the same.  The harder I cry, the more pressure that is put on my chest expanders and the more I hurt.

Throughout the night my mom would wake me up every three- four hours to empty my drains, measuring and recording the amount of fluid I am leaking off my chest. (my apologies if this is too much information). The less fluid the sooner the drains will get to come out.

I was given one large pain numbing ball that today diminished to nothing. I was told by the doctor that when this was finished (by Saturday) I could remove it myself. So just an hour ago I did just that. I slid the small cords out from underneath my skin so we could throw them away. I am now down to four large drains, that now stay in my fanny packet.

At this moment, Rachel and my mom are cooking dinner. Jameson and my dad are watching football downstairs and I am listening to one song on repeat hoping to remind myself that I am not alone. Because right now this is how I feel. (not because they are not here). It's more that I can't help. I feel helpless. Nobody else has drains, has incisions, has risk of infections or a long road ahead to healing......

Cancer is one of the loneliest things, it invades your body and nobody elses. You couldn't share the pain if you wanted. So my smile as seen in many pictures is a smile hiding a broken heart, healing wounds and preparing for the many days that lie ahead. Fake it till you make it I think.....

Your continued prayers as I walk this road. My parents took me for a short walk outside to get some Vitamin D which was a nice change...... although bittersweet, I have never been pushed in a wheel chair before.

Part 1. Surgery

**** please note I did write this in two segments

I should disclaimer that mid way through writing this, I may fall asleep or may be in too much pain and have to stop. I am currently laying on the couch in the basement of my best friends Rachel's house, while I listen to laughter and conversation  upstairs. My mom, dad, Rachel, her husband and friend from college Erin Zimmerman are making salsa and margaritas (tacos too) with my new VitaMix upstairs.

Listening to the sound above me, gives me both of joy and sadness. I wish I too could be partaking in tequila and contributing to dinner preparation but alas I am confined to the couch and my numbing medication.  The VitaMix was an early birthday gift for me from my parents. I decided to eat vegan throughout my healing process. A mostly plant based diet has proven to aid in the recovery process for cancer patients. By avoiding the additives and hormones in dairy/ meat which are considered inflammatory foods and ingesting more alkaline rich ingredients, I am hoping the sooner I bounce back.

So while they are enjoying Jose Cuervo upstairs and preparing dinner, I am going to attempt to recap my last twenty four hours in the hospital, including my surgery:

Wednesday morning, November 5,  I woke up early to drink my last few cups of coffee (was told no more liquid after 9:30 am), I read sweet notes from dear friends and my devotional while laying in my bed. I started reading the countless messages from all of you and cried happy tears. I desperately pleaded for peace and joy for the day, to not be afraid but rather walk in confidence for what was about to take place.

Around 8:30 am I picked up my dad at my parents hotel, so we could take one last long walk at my favorite place, Washington Park. We walked for an hour, (2.8 mile loop) talked and spent time together. I was so grateful for this walk and the crisp fall air, as the sun waking up the day.

Following our walk I went home to get ready.  My last shower was one I will never forget. With blue marker circling both breasts and marking where the incisions would be, I just stared in the mirror. One last time looking this way.... I thought to myself. I showered and tears streamed. Leaning against the shower wall, I thought..... this is it. The last time with this chest. I gently dried off and got dressed. I packed up my final things, put on comfortable clothes (although it didn't matter since they were going to put me in scrubs anyway). No makeup, no lotions, no deodorant.... no nothing. Meagan Day came by to help load all of our things to deliver them to my friends Rachel's house where I will be doing recovery for a few weeks, which was such a blessing to not have to transport it ourselves.

My dad drove to the hospital and while driving we continued to read out loud so many of your messages of encouragement. We were so grateful for the outpour. Upon arriving we learned that I was a half hour late (communication mix up by the hospital). So after checking in, receiving my wristband and all, I proceeded to the Radiology imaging department first. This allowed them to identify the lymph nodes they would take during surgery. They injected dye into my left breast where I then massaged the dye into my lymph nodes. The radiologist took a bunch of pictures under a giant machine thingy and then I was all finished up. (Lionel Richie was on Pandora station, which was nice background music).

Once I completed this step I was then admitted for surgery. Upon leaving my parents I tried not to look back at them. I didn't want them to see me cry. So I simply kept my head down said I will see you in a bit. I could tell they were having a difficult time and I was afraid if they saw me cry it would make matters worse. The nurse was very nice and asked me how I was. As routine (protocol) she asked what surgery they were performing. She then asked if this was a proactive mastectomy procedure and I said no that I was diagnosed breast cancer. She paused for a few moments and said "Wow you're so young." I said "Yes mam I am".  She explained that she had a daughter close to my age and she said "goodness your poor parents and I started to cry, I said I know..... it's terrible".

She left me alone in my room so I could change into my gown (it is hard to tie that thing without flashing the world), panty hose sort of things (to prevent blood clots) and socks. The entire time I was in the surgery preparatory room I silently prayed. Prayed for peace. It seems every time I am in a room alone my emotions creep up and all I want to do is crawl in a ball tightly and cry. I knew I was seconds from a breakdown. It is not that I did not want to cry (maybe a bit of pride)  but that I really wanted to be confident in the whole process. I wanted God's peace and his joy to be the story not my fear. So I strived to continue trusting I made the right choice, the choice for healing and that no matter what he was there in the midst of it all.

My IV was inserted quickly after and my parents got to come back. As this point I was in surgery ready mode. Blue hat and all. I called my sister and she wished me luck. I began to cry and said I would talk to her soon. I tried not look at my mom and dad afraid my tears would start flowing. There was no turning back at this point. My breast surgeon came in to ask how I was doing and said we would go back, in about twenty minutes.

Time seemed to fly by.....While in pre-op they began pumping me with medication for nausea and pain. The last drug they gave me caused a temporary form of amnesia. The anaesthesiologist advised that I would be functioning, talking normally etc. but I would not remember anything. And that is exactly what happened. They wheeled me out of my room, tears down my cheeks as I said goodbye to my mom and dad. The last thing I remember is being rolled in to the emergency room....... This was at 1:30 pm.

I woke up around 6:00 pm and found myself in post-opp. I barely remember this room except for asking the ever so important question, "Were my lymph nodes clear?" and the nurse responded "Yes". Still in a daze and my eyes closed I could feel as though a weight had been lifted off my shoulders and tears found their way to the corners of my eyes. Tears of relief, of joy and of immense gratitude.

Quickly after, my Mom and Dad came back, followed by Samantha (my cousins wife) and Meagan Day. I have never been so relieved to be finished and to squeeze their hands. The power of human touch is a beautiful thing. Seeing and holding their hands never felt better.

For now I am going to take a break from writing. I must get some sleep again. I am struggling to get comfortable and it is 3:30 am Denver time. However I am happy to hear both of my parents sleeping in other rooms.

I will consider this post, Chapter 1 of Surgery. More details, more thoughts and more emotions surrounding the day to follow. I should note that the preliminary pathology reports that my lymph nodes are clear. I will know officially in 10-15 days.

Warmest Kristina

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Inviting People In

Inviting people to be apart of your story and your pain is something that reaps the most beautiful out pour of blessings.  Rather than closing the door and attempting to battle this alone, by inviting people to be apart of this story and this journey, I have a stockpile of moments that I will carry with me for the rest of my life....

I have had multiple people speak of my diagnosis with a sense of urgency and excitement. As though they know something I do not. As though they believe something is being done in the midst of all this and they are waiting with urgency to see it come to light.

I love believing that.

Rather than spend my time in anger or bitterness approaching this diagnosis, I am choosing to believe that something good will be on the other side....... It sure makes the waiting and the days easier to bare.

I have spoken of my stubbornness nature before and my independence. Up to today I was the girl out there conquering the world, my fears and seeking to climb the next mountain. Whether it was backpacking alone through Central America, attending yoga school, quitting my job and heading south, signing up for races, or spending money on once and a lifetime opportunities..... I am a seeker, a doer and I wanted to leave no stone upturned in this thing called life....... Cancer has not taken that away from me but rather refined it. Cancer has refined my heart to know that in my desperate attempts to always be doing, that there is great beauty in the stillness. In the gentle whispers that life has to offer. Cancer in so many ways has been a gentle whisper......

Cancer has gently found way into the depths of my heart. Into places I never even knew existed. This gentle whisper has allowed others to lean in closer to me. To listen, to love and to show up. I am honored that I get the chance to be the recipient of that.

I truly believe it is a privilege to have others walk in a journey with you. For others to cry with and for me. For others to pray for me. For others to show up on my parents doorstep so I could simply hear the words, We love you..... We are here with you. Sunday evening I sat on the airplane, with tears down my cheeks reading through the many cards I received while I was home in Kentucky. I cried reliving the sweet moments spent with my family and the laughter with friends of past..... May everyone get the chance to be held up by others in their lifetime. Perhaps not through a cancer diagnosis but in so many ways I hope you too, get to feel the love that is others showing up when you need it most.

Someone described me on Sunday as "glowing".

What a beautiful compliment that is. I truly believe that if I really do appear to be glowing ..... I am a glowing reflection of the outpour of love that has come from all of you. You all allow me to be the one who is smiling, laughing and knowing full well the joy that is cancer.

This past weekend was just that.....  My work surprise party was that (I had not clue), complete with cake, and shots of bourbon and frozen meals for me to take and last evening having a bonfire, and food with those whom I consider my Colorado family...... it was. It all has been great joy.

But I am ready. Ready for this to begin. To say goodbye to work for a while, pack my hospital bag, and share my last meal with my parents tonight before tomorrow's big day.

Again my words seem so inadequate to express my appreciation to everyone that I have seen in the last few days, for the tears you express to me and for all of those sending their love far away.

Hope you find great joy today...... from Colorado. Love Kristina.

Below are some pictures from the weekend.

Louisville vs. Florida State Game....

Evansville, Indiana Halloween Party with Family

Spending time with Brittany Anderson, Christie Lee, Sarah Shannon and Susan Stewart.

Louisville Open House at my parents.