Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Courage, Dear Heart - C.S Lewis

This morning, the last day of the year 2014. I slept in. I had intended to go to cross fit at 6 am, but I hit snooze. It was below 0 this morning and my bed was cozy. Some mornings I find myself in pain. I am sleeping on my side again and I assume at night I sometimes put to much pressure on my expanders. So many times I don't listen to what my body needs. I have not for so many years. I am always pushing it, never stopping and if the past few months have taught me anything, it is to slow down a bit. Slow down so much to live in the present of the preciousness of life. If we are always rushing we will miss it. So this morning I listened to the warmth of the covers, the ice covered windows, the darkness and laid in my bed a bit longer....

Cancer slowed things down.

My constant list making, my life planning, my expectations met me that day in September when I heard the words CANCER through the phone. My life seemed to pause. My heart shattered. I remember sitting in the car with my mom that day crying. We sat in my car that day for hours. unsure what to do, where to drive, what to do. When my mom picked me up we sat in my work parking lot for forty five minutes or more.... I messaged friends who had asked if I received my test results. That seems so silly to me now. I text messaged some of the people dearest to me, to tell them that I had cancer. I am not sure I could have gotten on the phone if I tried. I could not utter the words. My mom and I frozen in time.

I remember when we left my office and we drove to get pedicures. We drank a glass of wine, and sat in shock. Nothing mattered anymore. We had no place to go, no where to be. The reality that awaited me over the next months was a mystery. The path unknown. My dad was booking his flight while my mom and I sat in a nail salon. Over the next forty eight hours I met with three doctors in Colorado and laid at the bed of my parents and cried.

This morning I took a shower and looked down at my chest. I rubbed my scar lines and the places where the drains went in at my side. I looked in the mirror as I carefully curled my hair. Two weeks from now my first round of treatment begins. This body that is strong and has healed beautifully is getting ready for a new challenge and my fears are very real.

This time last year I was getting ready for a ski trip to Steamboat Springs. This trip was the start of a year of traveling, airports, adventure and connecting with people from so many parts of my life. I took three trips to Southern California, Las Vegas, Chicago, Seattle, Texas, Clearwater Florida, two trips to Kentucky and just last month was in Guatemala. My heart is full of memories, laughter, and so many celebrations.

More than the places I saw, the only thing that I look back and see are those of you that drew near to me when I needed it the very most. All of you that have showed up, sent messages, written cards, wiped my tears, made me laugh and gone above and beyond to make sure I knew that I was cared for, that I mattered and that my story mattered.

I have so much to be grateful for. In the coming new year I will become an aunt and a breast cancer survivor. I have a job that I enjoy and so many good people in my life that pour into it. More than that I have hope that this story, my story does indeed matter and my ever changing heart will continue to learn, grow, let go and move towards grace.

As I prepare for the new year, treatment, reconstruction surgery and lots of healing..... I ask you to keep drawing near. Not just to me, but to those that matter in your life.

Move towards others. They need you. I need you.

My only hope for this year is to have courage. Simply courage for today and by Gods grace each day granted beyond that....

I am heading to the mountains today to spend New Years quietly soaking up that I have today.... and looking forward to the next year...

***Thank you to all of you who have been praying for my sister. She is feeling much better today and the baby is doing well. My family spent the last two evenings at the hospital as my sister underwent an emergency appendectomy surgery. Please continue to keep my family in your prayers as it certainly has been an unexpected year and my sister is half way through her pregnancy.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Tears on Christmas

I had every intention of writing on the plane about my time at home but I forgot to charge my computer so I was left with my notebook and a borrowed pen from the flight attendant.

Handwritten and now typed below:

I ordered a water just now from the flight attendant for my packet of EmergenC. I drink one a day, along with a Kombucha to make sure I am getting vitamins, antioxidants and nutrients for healing. Now that my week at home is done, I will be moving back into strict vegan eating. Avoiding all chemically processed, artificial flavored and hormone induced food. It is amazing what you get used too.

I wish I could write and tell you that my ten days in Louisville with family and friends went without tears, and only joy, but that would not be true.

Most of my visit I spent at my parents home. I set aside some time to visit friends but quickly found myself gravitating back to be with my mom and dad. No particular reason why but I suppose it felt safe. That if my emotions caught up to me, that it was OK to breakdown at their house. I could escape to my room there and take a few breaths. My parents, while they have spent a great deal of time with me the past few months have only been around a handful of occasions when I have a complete breakdown. Part of that, is trying to stay strong for them......

I was doing quite well with this, until Christmas day.  It was as though someone told me I had cancer for the very first time.

Opening gifts in our living room I watched as my sister opened maternity clothes, things for "junior" (the new baby's already nickname) and her husband a new wardrobe. My dad unpacked the usual slew of outdoor gear, while my mom received new cooking items and a special bracelet saying "grandma".

Two particular gifts I opened from my mom and dad were two new beanie hats. Both fitting perfectly and adorable.... left me silent. I held the hats in my hand and hung my head low. Trying to disguise my anguish I said thank you and that I loved them. My mom knowing me often better than myself looked deep into my eyes and knew my words although true, were apart of a larger narrative.

Once we finished exchanging gifts, I retreated to my bedroom. Looking into the mirror at myself I watched as a pool of tears filled my eyes. My stomach ached and I began to weep. Afraid someone would walk in I made sure to shut my door. Angry for being upset, I tried to tell myself that my parents meant well. That the hats are something I need. Besides I love wearing hats.

I could not muster the courage to put them on my head.

My fear of the future, met me that Christmas morning like a tidal wave. I crawled into bed and cried. Christmas, I thought, a day of joy. A day to look back at the year, all that one has accomplished, and celebrated. It is also a day to look forward to the new year coming ahead. What will the new year bring? What new things will one strive for?

This Christmas day found me looking back overwhelmed for all that has been. Two giant scars across my chest are evidence of the cancer they found. And then I look forward and weep knowing what is ahead. The unknown, the fear, the pain that awaits with chemotherapy.

My mom knowing something was not OK, found me in my bed with my tears. She sat next to me and listened as I explained how I wish I had not been here today. That maybe if I was not here for Christmas then I would not have ruined it. My tears, my sadness ruined the day I told myself. She assured me this was not true and that the greatest gift of all was that we were all home together. She sat with me as she has so many times before, and wiped my tears.


I landed back in Colorado this morning. Tomorrow I go back to work, and the doctor. I will be scheduling acupuncture, physical therapy and the cleaning service tomorrow morning. My stitches are being removed Tuesday. My much anticipated stack of bills at home was not here yet, so I suppose they may arrive tomorrow. Wednesday, my medical deductible restarts all over again.

I am taking one foot in front of the other as best I can but the truth is I am still fighting to seek gratitude and joy.

All of you preparing your new years resolutions. Boasting about the change you will make, the pounds you will loose, the body fat percentage you will achieve, take it from a cancer patient.... those pounds you gained over the holidays from meals shared with family and friends, I pray I have many meals and time spent with friends that perhaps cause a few pounds to be gained. Those wrinkles that so many of you are applying creams and paying to have erased, I pray by gods grace I live to see lines, evidence of laughter, of a life lived.  I pray that the meals I have in the coming weeks still taste good when my mouth is covered in toxins from chemo.

 I long for a new year that meets me with more joy, more gratefulness and more of learning about how good God is even when things seem so hard.

Do me a favor and this next year do life well. Live the next year so much so that you immerse yourself in the very things that you delight. The things that bring you joy. Seek forgiveness and never ever stop seeking joy.

My heart feels like it has been broken into a million pieces, but slowly I pick one piece up at a time, even when it is as though they are scattered about the room again. Today I find myself anxious, scared and tired, but smiling about the last week I spent in Kentucky. I do have much to look forward too. I will be an aunt to a little boy this coming May and two dear friends are getting married this summer (Chelsea and Kylie)!

I hope you had a wonderful Christmas, and if your Christmas found you in tears, may you still find thanks and know that I am very grateful for you. I am certain God loves you very much too.

Happy New Year Everyone
Love, Kristina

*** The hats, I will post sometime, I warmed up to and like them a lot. I love them so and will be worn so much in the coming months.

Here are some pictures from my time at home. Enjoy!

Thirteen Year Tradition of decorating Gingerbread Houses.

Not our best decorations but still fun. 

Stefanie and I ran into Chelsea at breakfast one morning. 

Christmas Eve dinner at Mortons.

Brittany (Junior :)) and Mom

Brittany and I (Thank you Emily and Daniel at Louisville Athletics) at the Basketball game Saturday. Despite the loss we still had a great time.

Sister picture. Erin and Lindsey.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

To not miss it - Merry Christmas

Today is Christmas Eve and right now I am up early while my parents are still sleeping....

Two nights ago my dad and I bundled up in warm clothes and went for a walk. It was pitch dark outside.  When I asked if we should bring a flashlight he said we would not need one. He explained that our eyes would adjust. My dad. Just like that, trusting the skies and the stars. It was chilly but we walked for over an hour. Walking we reflected on the past few months.  How much has changed, what is on the horizon and how grateful we are that I get this time at home before I have to start the next thing. Christmas happens to fall right in the middle of it all.....

Twelve weeks ago, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. In two weeks time, I will start twelve weeks of chemotherapy. Come April, should everything go along smoothly, I will complete my reconstruction surgery. So much is ahead...

As we walked we would stop and stare up to the skies. My dad would point out constellations and I would just gaze in wonder. As I looked up it was as though I was looking back in time. I remember a time when I was little, my dad drove me to a park and we laid on the hood of his car, staring up to the sky. Such a sweet memory.

As much as my perspective has changed because of cancer.... so many days I find myself longing for the way things were.

This year my immediate family will be celebrating Christmas together. My sister and her husband, celebrating a last christmas before they become parents to a little boy..... My mom and dad, celebrating as soon to be grandparents..... and me, a soon to be breast cancer survivor and aunt.

We indeed have so much to be grateful for.

I want to thank all of you who have already seen me while I am visiting home. Those of you that I have not seen in so many years. Your kind words, your prayers and simply the hugs are so appreciated. Those of you sharing my story, asking others for prayers thank you.

In a few weeks time I will experience what it is like to have everyone in on your story, even when you don't want them to be. Baldness, invites others in and I am afraid. No more hiding.  My desire for when this day comes, is that I can embrace others faces, and stares just as I am embracing the hugs from all of you wanting to wish me well. I hope that my face and my smile demonstrate hope. The hope that I have. That in the end everything is going to be ok..... That my heartbreak now, will soon mend. That I will not be defined by cancer nor will I allow it to steal my joy.

I have been meaning to share this as well. If you see me, or give me a hug, and you start to cry..... know that your tears are welcomed and even appreciated. Being the recipient of others tears is one of the most humbling gifts. To know that I am wept for. That others are hurting with me. What a gift. I am humbled that my story, that my words bring you to tears. What an honor.

Thank you for crying..... you have my permission to cry. I cry all the time and I don't think anyone should cry alone.

When I was diagnosed with cancer, I did not consciously make a plan how how I would go about doing cancer. I don't remember choosing whether I would be angry or joyful..... but I do remember this. I met a friend over a beer, two weeks after my diagnosis. We talked about it all. What it meant, what would happen. This particular friend posed the question, "What do you hope for in all of this?"

I sat and pondered his question and then began to speak, "To not miss it". Puzzled he looked at me and I went on further to explain. "I dont want to miss what he is doing in all of this, with my story, with breast cancer. Things like this don't just happen and I am confident he is going to do something. Teach me things, change me, change others and I dont want to be on the other side and have missed it. So I want to be present in it. Cry, laugh, and embrace the journey of breast cancer....I don't want to miss it."

Today that wish and that hope have not changed. I am fighting for the present. The present that is today and live in what tomorrow is, when tomorrow comes. 

Merry Christmas to you and your family wherever you are..... to my many friends around the world that I have had the privilege of meeting in my travels I am sending my love and joy to you as well. Tomorrow, I plan to drink central american coffee, share gifts with my family, drink some colorado brew and set my phone away for the day. I don't want to miss Christmas either.

Love Kristina

When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy.Matthew 2:10 

***Below are some pictures from the Louisville game last night with my family.

2013 National Championship Trophy, the one my Honduran classroom cheered so well for.

Monday, December 22, 2014

My Old Kentucky Home

Written from the airplane Saturday morning, heading to Louisville:

I woke up this morning at 7:45 am. I managed to turn off my original alarm and was left with only a half hour before Rachel came to take me to the airport. I am heading home to Kentucky until next Sunday. For the first time I do not have to go to a doctor for ten days straight. I am looking forward to time at home, to rest and visit before I need to be back Colorado to start chemotherapy.

Thursday afternoon,  I went to the plastic surgeon for what was my last saline fill. As expected I slept terribly Thursday evening. The first twenty four hours after an expansion are the worst. My right side continues to be worse than my left. The nurse says it is because I am right handed so I have more muscle on this side, which is the soreness that I feel. Either way it is terrible.

While I was at the plastic surgeon I made mention of a large mole that is on top of my head. In anticipation of losing my hair I would like to wear my bald head as it is. As silly as this may sound, I did not want a large mole to be on top. My doctor said that yes, it is something he could remove for me, but that he needed to make sure we did it far enough in advance of starting chemotherapy. (something I did not think of). As well that he would place stitches in and in one week I would come back and he would take them out. (Again something I did not anticipate). Soon after my plastic surgeon called my oncologist (boss lady as he said) to make sure it was ok to do this removal so close to starting chemo. She approved. I said great! (thinking it would be the first week of January).

The nurse came back in and said the only time they could take me was the next morning at 6:30 am. After a brief hesitation, I said great. Lets do it. 

After a poor night of sleep and a 4:45 am wake up to be at the doctor yesterday morning by 6:30 am, needless to say yesterday was a long day. My company had our holiday potluck/ugly christmas sweater/ white elephant party yesterday that I was coordinator of so after my minor surgery I arrived at work by 8:30 am.

Last night I cleaned my house, packed, did laundry and watched some game of thrones before falling asleep. Fortunately I am able to take other medicine now besides tylenol (during my IVF cycle I could not take any advil, ibuprofen, or pain killers). Last night I took some medicine to relieve the pressure on my chest and to help with the ache in my stomach (ovaries swollen). 

Walking through the airport today I often watch others, wondering where they are going. What brings them to their destination and began to think about mine. I am going home. My sister we learned yesterday is carrying a baby boy. Our family does not have any boys (minus my dad) so the excitement as you can imagine is great. 

Later that evening while talking to my mom from the “gender reveal” party I began to cry. And cry a lot. I asked my mom to go, not wanting to spoil the celebration. The news while great, and the noise of celebration in the background coming through the phone one of great joy. I am not sure what happened. 

Trying to celebrate and find joy when at times the opposite reality of my life right now comes like a tidal wave. The lies found in my thoughts, overwhelm me as I find it so difficult to celebrate.

Envious. Jealous even, as terrible as that sounds. The fear that I may never get that celebration. The despair that my future seems to hold. The fear that a future is not even available for me. That milestones may never get to take place for me.

All just thoughts, but thoughts that brought me to tears.

I should be landing soon and the mom to be, my sister, is picking me. I am going to be home and fight to celebrate even when it seems so difficult to do. 

With stitches in my head, painful expanders in my chest and an aching stomach I am stepping forward, the only way I know how. Trying to be brave, trying to allow myself to grieve but most of all fighting for joy. 

Written this morning from my parents house:

Today I am meeting my English teacher for lunch and spending time with my two best friends. The weekend was spent with family visiting and relaxing at home. It has been really nice to be home.
Not much more of an update at this time. The stitches are doing ok and the soreness is improving each day. Have a wonderful Monday everyone.

Here are some pictures we took from Saturday night....

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Believing that a bad story is still a really good one

From my desk at work I sit nearby four other women. I often listen as they discuss their lives, their new homes, their dog that ate something it shouldn't have, their distant family and the hope of having children someday. This particular day (yesterday) I found myself in silence. The music in my headphones could not be loud enough to silence the conversation, nor quiet the jealousy in my heart. 

The very things I once longed for seem so trivial to me now. My list of hopes, my list of dreams are simply compiled to a list of medical wishes. Wishes that read, I will not leave the doctor dizzy today. That insurance will cover acupuncture for when I start chemotherapy. That chemo doesn't wreak havoc on my ovaries. That I am kept away from illness while my white blood cell count drops low. That the large scars across the center of my breasts heal beautifully. That the ache in my stomach from mondays procedure, and nausea will seize. That my four eggs will be enough. That I will be enough in all of this. 

My daily routine now that I am back to work consists of many interruptions. I leave for the doctors office and come back to work (sometimes more than once). Some coworkers notice and ask how it went. As of late I am not up for sharing much. It is easier to leave my emotions at the doorstep, sit in my desk, place my earbuds in and dive into my job. 

The news I 
received yesterday is nothing short of disappointing. I met with the fertility doctor to understand more of what happened on Monday and why I was only able to retrieve four eggs.... My doctor, a woman who I have great respect, given the profession shes works in, sat me down and asked what she could answer for me. I began to speak with courage, trying to suppress my tears explaining my obvious disappointment

She looked me in the eyes and said, "I was disappointed for you too." 

A sigh of relief came over. My feelings are valid, someone felt the same way. Someone who is a professional. To hear her empathize with me was such a gift. Over the next hour we began to discuss what she learned about my ovarian health the past week. With a blood test every day for ten days, a vaginal ultrasound (9 in total) they are able to learn a lot of information about me. 

Before I started on medication I began with a diagnostic exam, to test my baseline ovarian health. One of the tests conducted was for my AMH level. AMH stands for the Anti-Mullerian Hormone. This number is one of the strongest indicators of ovarian health. This hormone is secreted by the cells that are developing follicles (eggs). So the higher the number science has attributed to better ovarian health. This number vastly decreases as women get older, so science has created benchmarks for the average AMH level based on age. 

My AMH level was 1.37. The level at which someone 27 years old is expected to have is 3.7. My ovarian health looked that of someone aged 34-35 years old. 

The next number was my resting number of follicles. I had 13. The doctor shared that while this number was not terrible, she would have liked to see more like 15-20 eggs for someone my age.

These two starting points helped explain why the outcome was as it was. She also explained that the 13 eggs really did not start responding to medicine until the end of the medicine cycle. She would have liked to see them start popping up and growing sooner. Saturday morning (two days before the procedure) I had four tracking to full maturity. The trigger shot Saturday evening, she had hoped would boost the others that were not quite mature yet, but they unfortunately did not reach appropriate size. The four that showed on Saturday, were the ones they were able to retrieve. 

The rest of the appointment we discussed what next steps look like for me. In tears I nearly pleaded with her that the hardest part of this, is that we are discussing something that seems so far away. That I struggle to believe that I get tomorrow and this process invites me to ponder my future potential family. 

As you can imagine I nor had peace or resolution leaving her office. The chemotherapy regime I am placed on, she advised has a 50-80% chance of making me sterile. With such staggering numbers, and so much uncertainty I am left with only one choice.


I am left to trust and believe that what  feels like a bad story is still ultimately a really good one. That I have no reason to be jealous of or envious of my coworkers because a beautiful story is being written for me, that has included all of this. That the future although it may seem distant and like a fog is certain to be something good, even if what is in front of me seems bad. 

Kara Tippets a fellow breast cancer fighter says it best:

"It takes courage, humiliating courage, to step aside from your own sovereignty and imagined control and begin looking for that gift that comes unmerited. Yes, Im talking about grace. Grace by definition is the gift that comes unearned. In a world of unbelievably able bodies, where new diets are fashioned every day to keep my brand of story away, it is hard to realize you may be living in the middle of the best story ever told. That the story of breast cancer could possibly be a good story? A great story even? It would be easier to shake my fist at the test results and scream that this isn't the right story, but to receive- humbly receive the story no one would ever want and know there is goodness in the midst of its horror.... is not something I could ever do on my own strength. I simply cannot. That receiving comes from the one who received his own suffering for a much greater purpose than my own."

May you find that even your story with all its intricacies, heartbreaks and disappointments, is too a really great story.

Love Kristina

Monday, December 15, 2014


My doorbell rang just as I was talking to my dad this afternoon. Tears streamed my face as I explained the outcome of today. He listened to my obvious disappointment and tried to encourage much I wish I could reach through the phone and have him hold me.

This morning after my roommate drove me back home and went back work I laid in my bed and wept. Both physically and emotionally I am drained.

After being admitted for surgery around 8 am, I found my way to the operating table. The nurses carefully placed my legs far apart and strapped me in, so my I would not fall off once I was put to sleep. Talk about your dignity thrown to the side. A dear friend of my bosses (who happens to be a nurse in the office) came down to visit. She simply wanted to say hello, encourage me and tell me how glad she was that I found my way to their office. The tears began to fall as she spoke. The nurses asked about my story, how I found my way to the fertility office.... I gave them a cliff notes version of my breast cancer journey. Unlike most of their patients, I was a cancer patient preserving my fertility prior to chemotherapy. My friends were out in the waiting room (not a husband or partner like most). I became overwhelmed by my whole story and the procedure getting ready to take place. I tried to take deep breaths as I waited for them to begin. The doctor, not my own (the one on call) introduced himself and I quickly found myself asleep.

I woke up in the recovery room hazy. All I heard though and all I remember is that they got three. My roommate and best friend were sitting in the chairs across from me as we listened to the nurse recap on how it went. All I could hear was number 3. 3 eggs. As soon as the room emptied and it was just me and my friends I began to cry. 3? Just three I thought? Rachel and Candice made their way to my bedside as they helped me wipe my tears since my hands were trapped by my IV and monitor..... this was my one opportunity and this was the outcome.

I am at home now resting. I am not in much pain but my heart hurts. There are so many things I could explain, and questions to be had..... but I am trying hard not to go there. I do not mean to be ungrateful for the eggs they retrieved... It is just not the outcome I had hoped for.  Fertility as a cancer patient is a very different journey than that of a woman trying to conceive, so please know that I in know way want to assume I know what that journey is.

The reality is that eleven days ago I had a resting follicle count of 13 eggs. (considered low for someone my age). Over the course of ten days I began taking medicine (shots) to stimulate my ovaries. Last Thursday,  I had close to 8-10 follicles (eggs) responding well to medicine and growing large. Saturday evening, I took my trigger shot to give the final boost to the follicles to mature for extraction today. I had been told many estimates throughout the simulation regarding the number for retrieval. Some estimates were high, based on my age and my health. Once my resting count was set at 13 the estimation dropped. The lowest range I had been told was 4-6 follicles. Last Thursday and Friday it was looking more like 8- 10 follicles. But none of that matters because today, the final frozen number was 4.

The nurse called this afternoon and confirmed that they froze four healthy, mature eggs for me. (they confirmed one more after I left their office). You may be wondering doesn't it just take just one for a baby? Yes that is true. (with many asterisks).

Four is not the number I expected to hear but four is what I received.

I am going to try and rest my eyes easy tonight knowing that this part is complete.... and the next part is chemotherapy.

For the most part I have compartmentalized my cancer journey to process one thing at a time and I honestly think part of my emotions are knowing that the fertility step is complete and I am on to the next step..... chemotherapy.

The certainty I once had, I am not sure I have anymore. I used to dream big and look to the future as though it were mine to grasp. The one thing I know for certain is right now, I am given today. I have today to embrace and today honestly was a hard day. Perhaps someday I will get married, and I may decide to have a child. But today, I am not doing that, I am not sure I may ever want to do that. But should I decide and should I not be able to conceive on my own..... I have four healthy eggs to give me that opportunity.

I am sad. I am disappointed. I am relieved and I am scared of what is next.

Tomorrow morning I am back to physical therapy.... Thursday I go back to the plastic surgeon. More doctors appointments await, but the daily ultrasound/shots/blood draw are complete.

Here are some pictures from today. Thank you again. I appreciate your kind words, and to those of you reading struggling through infertility know how dear you are to my heart.

Love Kristina

My puffy eyes from my tears and wheelchair photo I am getting used to taking.

Fertile Hope a program through the LiveStrong foundation and heartBeat by Walgreens, provides all medication for fertility preservation free of charge for cancer patients. (it was delivered straight to my house). These programs gave me more medicine than I needed and I was able to donate this back to the fertility office, to give to another cancer patient who was denied by the program. 

Fertility preservation was not covered by my insurance so the gift of medicine that would have otherwise cost me thousands of dollars was such a gift. Thank you to both of these organizations. Below you will see that I wrote a message to the recipient of my medicine from one cancer patient to another. (we have to stick together).

My medicine all prepped for me one morning.

Lastly our live Christmas tree, adorned with popcorn strings compliments of my roommate and her boyfriend.

It is Today

Monday morning, I am awake with anticipation. In just a half hour I will be leaving for the fertility doctor for my egg harvest procedure (not sure proper term). Saturday, the doctor decided to go ahead and move forward with the trigger (exactly 36 hours before my retrieval).  Saturday night I had three shots in total. Two in my stomach and the trigger shot, in my gluteal muscle. Candice (my roommate) kindly did this one for me, since it was a bigger needle and harder to reach on my butt. I had been told the needle is more intimidating than it actually is.... and this is so true. I barely felt her doing it. I do have a nice bruise now :)

Yesterday morning, I went in for my blood work and the nurse said my levels look perfect for today. I asked her what perfect meant she explained that basically the PH level, hormone levels etc. need to be beyond a set point to ensure a good retrieval today.

The procedure should take in total 45 minutes or so. I will be asleep for this. Sorry if this next information is "Tmi" (too much information). I have just found little information myself, on how this happens and thought maybe this would be helpful if someone else is going through this as well.

The procedure is done vaginally. They will go in and extract the eggs from my ovaries. I am a bit sore today as to be expected in that my ovaries are enlarged and full with what I hope are a bunch of mature eggs. I will be home today from work resting and should be back in the office tomorrow. It is an outpatient procedure that should have me home before lunch today.

I am ready for this to be completed but am a bit nervous about how it will go. But maybe I most nervous about the number of eggs they are able to extract. Most IVF patients, the many I sit next to in the waiting room, the doctor coordinates timing of their cycles to stimulate their ovaries for extraction. Unfortunately with my diagnosis I was not given the benefit of time. The doctors simply had to start/ interrupt my cycle where it was to begin the medicine for retrieval. So with this being the foundation that we started on I know I should be grateful for any number of eggs they are able to freeze, but still want to know that I was able to get as many as possible.

Goodness I am looking at the time and I need to get in the shower before we head to the doctor. My roommate and Rachel (best friend from college), are going to be there waiting while I am back in surgery. I am so grateful.

I will hopefully update later.... just depends on how I am feeling. I do hope that the Christmas tree we decorated in our house yesterday, the delivery of cookies to our neighbors and Christmas records made the eggs happy and in the spirit. :) That was yesterdays goal. :)

Thank you for thinking of me this morning, and most of all praying that the number of eggs I can trust is the exact number that I someday need, or perhaps not. That this was all along the plan and it will be good.

I was listening to this song this morning and it seems ever so true, I am really grateful and hope this finds you as well.

"Through it all, my eyes are on you and it is well with me." - It is well. Bethel Music.

*** More Christmas photos and cookies later!

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Saturday Morning Update

Good Morning, Day 9 of fertility medicine. The nurse called me yesterday with my dosage instructions (She calls every day) and said that I must take my shots prior to 6:30 am and that today would potentially be my "trigger shot" (the last one). This would mean my retrieval would take place on Monday. I should know more in an hour when I get to the doctors office. I look forward to this process to be completed and my early morning wake ups to stop..... Which ever day it is, I want my eggs to be mature and ready to be retrieved so it does not matter to me. I am still tracking the same numbers, I have had a few more eggs show up so fingers crossed those little guys can catch up to the size needed to be frozen. I would love to have a healthy amount in the bank.

An update on where I stand medically, I am doing well. I have not experienced the major side effects the nurse advised I would. I do tire quickly but I also think this is me adjusting to work full time. I am still trying to rest a lot, minus the early morning wakeups for shots, so that my body continues to recover and heal. I went to crossfit again yesterday and saw more of my 6 am morning friends. Most of the time I watched, laughed at them (not really) but was able to do more mild exercises to increase my mobility. It definitely seems to help my spirits for the day.

This weekend is quiet around here for me, some final christmas shopping to complete, baking some cookies and hopefully a Christmas movie or two. The weather is supposed to be mid 60's today so a walk around Wash Park seems just what the doctor ordered.

I fly home next Saturday to be with my family for ten days, I will fly back to Colorado the Sunday following Christmas and back to work before my first round of chemotherapy on January 13. 

I am trying my best not to speculate how this will go, how I will respond, but it is certainly hard not too. My hair is expected to fall out within 14 days of my treatment. I am going to wait until it starts to fall, to then shave it. I want to process this, feel it and not proactively shave.

I think the hardest thing about losing my hair, is that most people up to this point have said how well I have done..... how good I look and compliment my healing. But, as soon as my hair goes it is as though this routine, this pretend "I am doing really great look" doesn't sell itself so well anymore. Without my hair, my bald head will invite others to my story, to know that I am/was sick that otherwise would have never known. I am/ will embrace this as best I can with grace and love. Most of all more love for myself. I would love to admit that it is just hair and I really do not care but I am afraid I would be lying to myself. My hair makes me feel like me, like a woman and beautiful..... so I think this may be a difficult thing to process.

So much of breast cancer strips your femininity away from you ..... not to mention the fertility process. The physical attributes that most often characterize a woman, her breasts, her ability to conceive, her hair... are all things that are being taken away from me. 

But what a beautiful thing God has done to remind me that my body, my appearance is not what defines my value. These very things do not make me more or less of a woman. It is who I am. What makes my heart beat, how I smile, what makes me laugh, how I embrace and love others, that is what makes me who I am..... 

I really must get going so I am not late. My house is quiet and I am afraid I have woken some of my roommates up. Someday soon my life will fall back to normalcy again I think.... 

But today I am trying to soak up the me that is today and me that has always been. Knowing that the God that always was and will always be, loves me and you dearly....

Happy Holidays to all of you. Your continued prayers as I prepare for my retrieval. I am nervous but confident the doctor has prepared me and my body is going to give me just the number of eggs I may some day (perhaps not) need.

Love Kristina

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Today is a good day

Taking in the good with the bad.

I just got home from Crossfit. This was my first visit back to crossfit since my surgery. My surgery was five weeks ago today (some days it feels like yesterday, other days like a lifetime ago). As you can imagine my ability to Crossfit is limited.  I tried my best with some air squats, step ups and core work, as I watched my friends push themselves with exercises that make my chest hurt just thinking about them. (not envious in the least).

Thank you Leann (and Crossfit Bluegrass) for my "Barbells for Boobs" shirts, I wore one today as it seemed appropriate for the occasion.

I think today will be a good day, it was really great to see my old workout friends and move my body a bit again :)

My return to work on Monday was good. I was so grateful for the warm wishes, the many "we are so glad to have you back" and to simply sit in my desk. Being back in the office, creates this sense of normalcy that I have not had. Although, my days are interrupted by doctors appointments and follow ups, I am back to work full time and really enjoying being back. My co-workers have been an extended branch of my family during this time, and to be able step back in has been a really wonderful distraction. I must admit, that with Christmas quickly approaching on the horizon, it provides some motivation to jump back in to my job and finish out the year strong.

I had the joy of listening yesterday as my boss shared about hearing the news of my clear lymph nodes on the day of my surgery. On day of my surgery it had been a busy work day for our company. We finally closed on a property that meant a big success for our business, so all hands were on deck for the occasion. In the midst of the hustle of the closing to do lists, the message came from my mom to my boss, that my lymph nodes were clear and that all of the cancer would be removed. Just hearing my boss retell the story brought tears to my eyes. A mass email went out to our office as my colleagues had been anticipating an update on my progress. What I would have given to see the celebration. (Or any of you celebrating for matter). Thank you for doing that..... For celebrating me. My cancer free me, I am so grateful.

I am officially on Day 7 of fertility medicine. After a few days of shots, I finally feel like I am getting used to the "song and dance".  I still have not quite mastered the angle at which to inject myself to reduce the sting but am working on it each time.

Your prayers are appreciated as it seems that although I am responding well to the medicine, I may not have as many eggs available to harvest as expected in someone my age. (No specific reason why to my knowledge at this point). I am still days away from the harvest and there is a lot that could change between now and then..... but I must admit the numbers they are tracking at this point had me very disappointed yesterday.  I am going in daily for blood work and an ultrasound, that way they can monitor the eggs (follicles) progress and adjust my medication accordingly. Thank you for keeping this process in your thoughts and prayers. I am hopeful it will turn out better than expected!

As well please lift up, the many other woman I see daily when I walk into the fertility office. My heart truly goes out to each and every woman that desires to have a child and they are unable to conceive.

Yesterday, I received some news that helps lessen the burden of the next few steps in this process. Cleaning for a Reason (Thank you Stephanie and Debora for sending this to me), provides house cleaning services for cancer patients while they are undergoing chemotherapy. I was paired up with a local, Green Organic (no toxins) cleaning service, once a month for four months. As you may or may not know I am notorious for keeping a clean house so this gift is such a blessing for me.

If you know of someone going through chemotherapy, I recommend you passing this along to them (represented across the United States). So many people ask how they can help or what they can do and one of the biggest recommendations I would say is, look at the persons heart? What would serve them well? As an often "OCD" cleaner, this gift brought a smile to my face. (along with so many others I have received).

Some of you may not have noticed my bucket list listed above in this blog. Just yesterday a colleague asked why I made one. He politely said, "It is not like your not going to die?" I kindly responded saying, "I know, I actually created the list two years ago before all of this started. I wanted a list to keep me dreaming. planning, setting goals and booking plane tickets."

Yesterday, my dad sent me an email that had been forwarded from his colleagues at Caterpillar in Houston, TX (Headquarters). They would like to grant me one of my bucket list items and host me and my parents for the 2015 Houston Rodeo (the worlds largest livestock and live music rodeo). As you can imagine, my Kentucky/Colorado hippie heart is so excited! I have always wanted to attend and now I will get too!

So to those of you reading, whom I have never met but are dear friends to my parents thank you for making this happen, In the midst of all of this, this is sure to be a special occasion. It appears the event may be falling during my last round of chemotherapy so a true southern, Texas celebration will be in order! Thank you so much.

That is all I have to update today. Today is a good day. The weather is beautiful outside and next Saturday I am heading back to Kentucky for ten days (the entire Christmas week).

Hope this email finds you well, healthy and finding joy where you least expected, even if it is in the normalcy of the day. Your continued love and prayers are so appreciated.

Love Kristina

Sunday, December 7, 2014

My Christmas List

Tonight, I am sitting in my bed while I am drinking what seems like my tenth glass of water, the last one I had was filled with EmergenC.  My roommate has been coughing and sniffley so I want to be certain I do not get sick.  I just gave myself my evening shot and tomorrow morning I will arrive first thing at the fertility doctor blood work and an ultrasound. Following the doctors office, I am going in to work for the first time since my leave of absence.

I cry thinking about it ...

I am unsure why I cry really.... perhaps it the reason I had to leave that brings me to tears or the unknown in going back. This fight for a new normal, while my future ahead still seems so unsure. I have tried to remain strong but this road is long and the past few days I have had make this road seem longer....

To try and create some intentions or prayers for the coming months, I thought how different my Christmas list would look this year. I decided to put it into words....

My Christmas List This Year:

  1. To trust Jesus, to lean into him, believe that he is is good and he is working in this, in all of it. Trust that I am not alone. I love this song, "Turn your eyes upon Jesus".
  2. To relish in the moments before me and laugh a whole bunch.
  3. To believe that I have a future before me. A carefully planned future that can and will include so many things my heart desires. That this is not the end. 
  4. To not be afraid. Every time the doctor does a scan, draws blood or examines me I am afraid that something will be wrong. Every time I go to stick myself with the shot I have to take a deep breath. I am afraid of loosing my hair and looking sick. I am afraid of being abandoned and forgotten in this long journey.
  5. To not be jealous of others.... celebrating new homes, new marriages, new babies, first Christmas decorations or children's plays. I look in wonder.... will I get that someday? Does that exist beyond this cancer for me? I drove past the park this weekend and I saw a girl running, listening to music without a care in the world. I used to be that girl I thought to myself. I find myself envious of her carelessness ... envious of what I perceive to be her normalcy.
  6. To embrace my tears. My tears are not going away, nor are they getting any easier. Perhaps I can just let them flow, and learn that it is ok.
  7. To love myself. I have spent so much time already apologizing for how I am handling this, and blaming myself for things. If I could learn to love myself in this that would be such a gift.
  8. That my heart would be secure, I am sensitive and am easily wounded. Even the slightest seems to pierce my heart at this time.
  9. Rest. I am tired both physically, mentally and emotionally. If I could find time to rest, be in peace.
  10. Find joy. That joy would come out of the most unlikely of places and I would find it there.

**** That is all I hope for right now, but I am sure there is so much more....

To continue with an update, I have successfully given myself shots for three days now (7 days to go)! As for the rest of this process I am not doing so well. I am struggling emotionally and physically. The nurse asked if I was excited to start the process and I politely said "No mam, it's just I had hoped I would not have to have chemotherapy. So no, I am sorry mam but I am not excited."

In addition I am still working through bills..... I owe a large amount tomorrow as well as I am trying to plan for my deductible balance to start back at zero on January 1. I understand why so many people talk about having cancer and trying to do everyday life at the same time..... there are so many things to keep record of it is overwhelming and exhausting. (Thank you to all of you who have generously donated to help aid me with my medical bills, I am so grateful, really speechless. Please know how thankful I am).

I hope to get a better idea of my progress (when they expect to extract the eggs) tomorrow. Expected date is next Tuesday. As mentioned above, I will be going back to work tomorrow, as best I can with my many doctors visits.

After my work day tomorrow around 5:00 pm I have physical therapy. I am sure at this point I will be ready to be in bed. Tuesday, I visit my plastic surgeon for a "fill up" in the afternoon. The rest of the week is contingent on the progress with fertility preservation, which appears to be monitored daily (daily visits for blood work).

That is all for now, sorry for my lack of writing and updates, I am afraid I do not have much energy for it....

Warmest Kristina

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Presence over presents- Kara Tippets

I sit listening to Christmas music, with a red starbucks cup sipping on coffee. The store is adorned with all things Christmas decor. Tis the season it is. I love Christmas. I love this time of year. I love the way Thanksgiving is the segway to all things holiday..... celebrations, gatherings, laughter and joy.

Oh how my heart longs that this season looked different for me.

I am drinking coffee slowly today because tomorrow I can't have any. Tomorrow I start Day 1 of fertility treatments. Two shots to my stomach in the morning. Two shots in the evening. I will continue with this regime, for the next ten days. The intention of the drugs is to stimulate my ovaries so I have eggs available for extraction. (egg freezing) This is estimated to take place on December 16. I have never given myself a shot before. (let alone two, or four for that matter in one day).

As I begin to reflect on this Christmas season, I am afraid. Afraid of not being present in the middle of it. My emotions change just as the street lights.  My fragile heart longs to live in the now, and just as I find myself entering the present moment at hand, I find myself overwhelmed and scared, so I wish to run out of it.

January 13, I will have my first chemotherapy treatment. My hair will soon fall away after that. Today the physical therapist said, "You will know. When you go to put your hair in a ponytail and it doesnt stay." My eyes began to fill with water.

You see Christmas happens to fall in the middle of this waiting, in the middle of the unknown. First egg harvesting, then Christmas and New Years and after that three months of chemotherapy.

Oh the future how far away, yet so close you seem.

Monday, I am going to attempt to return to work. There are a few things I have considered in this decision. My long for normal. My hope to find a distraction and that my body overall is doing very well. I need to go back. The other side to this equation is, that I am not receiving income at this time. The reality of looming bills and bills not yet paid. I have to go back.

I am also feeling very guilty. I made a commitment to my job and this diagnosis is not their fault.  I feel as though I have let them down. I know they would quickly deny this claim and assure me that I have not but if you're reading, then know this is how I am feeling. I was the newest employee. I was the first employee they have had take short term leave. It was unknown territory. My boss who took a chance on me, who chose to mentor me in our business, is pregnant and I want to be ready for when she leaves. I want to show up. Do my job well and pretend that cancer did not happen.

I am afraid I am going to cry a lot. The fertility medication I have been told could make me sad, depressed and tired. I want to ask the nurse, "How is that any different than how I already feel?" 

My family went home on Wednesday and I am back in my house. I spoke with my neighbor on the street who had been told of my diagnosis from my roommate. (I had not seen her yet). She gave me a big hug and shared with me how incredibly sad she was. That she was unsure what to say or do. I assured her that her hug was more than enough.

The cards I continue to receive are read. Thank you. Thank you for not forgetting me. For continuing to reach out. I knew that the messages would slow down, so all of you who continue to send your words, I am so very grateful. To those of you who are showing up for my family, thank you. Often times the caregivers need just as much love and support as the patient, so thank you for doing that so well. My sister as you may or may not know is pregnant. My parents are going to be grandparents this year. Thank you for celebrating this new life with our family. Please continue to lift them up as well. 

If you have not started reading Kara Tippets blog, I encourage you to do so. She is truly remarkable. She writes this regarding her long for joy this holiday season as her body is fading and treatments continue to fail. Her words below regarding the upcoming season have never meant so much:

I have been thinking a lot about what it is that nurtures peace in our home, fights fear, and multiplies joy. Stuff will never do any of those things. Never. But our presence in life with one another- our intention in loving, our living in love- that lasts. More than all of that- our nearness to Jesus and His grace will bring abiding peace, true peace, lasting comfort. Our living within the moment together, screens down, snuggle love, reflecting on the goodness of God, question asking- living together. That’s what I long for with my people.

Truthfully today has been a hard day. I am not doing very well. I cry a lot. I am overwhelmed. I am waiting on drugs to be overnighted, a bill that is not being approved properly by insurance, and I do not have much energy for everything. 

I dont have much else to share. I will write on how I am doing with the fertility medication once I get started. In Kara's blog she shares this, "Presence over presents." 

Thank you for your presence in my cancer journey.

How could this holiday season look different if we lived out "Presence over presents"?

With so much gratitude... Love Kristina

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Celebrating Stephanies forever when I have trouble believing in my own

This morning I know I need to write about the wedding weekend but all I can think about is what happened yesterday on my plane ride from Guatemala to Houston.

I boarded the flight and found my seat next to the window. I rested my head soon after boarding, struggling to get comfortable. The previous evening I did not sleep well and I could tell the adrenaline from the weekend had worn off. I was exhausted.

A couple sitting next to me on the plane, asked why I was visiting Guatemala? I quickly shared my short version of the story. Stunned at the news of my diagnosis they said, "Well you seem to be handling everything well. You look really great." I smiled, said thank you. We spoke for a few moments and I placed in my headphones in, hoping to politely excuse myself for a nap. Soon after I fell asleep. 

I woke up just before landing in Houston, finding myself with a to do list that seemed a mile long. I was anxious for the future and the pending appointments that needed to be made. Somehow wishing I could return back to where my cell phone did not work and cancer did not seem on the forefront of my brain. 

Upon landing in Houston, I quickly turned on my phone. I needed to reach the fertility doctor before they closed and as I powered on my phone I found my tears began to fall. I spoke to my parents, asking if they had arranged anything with my doctors and as I awaited my dads response I began to cry harder...... 

My brain began painting the picture of my current reality, my mom and dad still in Colorado and me sitting on the Tarmac in Houston one hour before doctors offices closed in Denver. Tomorrow the four week clock starts to complete egg harvesting and the first week of January I will begin chemotherapy. Not to mention my mom and dad leave tomorrow. I looked out the window, hoping nobody would see my tears. As I stared outside, the couple to my left said, "Well we wish you the very best with everything. It was nice to meet you." Turning my head I looked at this stranger and my obvious tears were visible for them to see. His wife, leaning in asked if I had people in Colorado to help with everything.  I, barely able to answer,  said "Yes I do. Just so many moving parts, you know?". (of course how could they know.... they do not).

I wiped my tears before they fell to my chest and tried to pull myself together. Embarrassed and scared I desperately wanted the plane to deboard so I could find the nearest bathroom to lock myself in. Before meeting up with other guests of the wedding that were as well on my plane, I found that bathroom and cleaned up my tears. A few of the others asked if I was able to rest on the plane but nobody made mention of my puffy eyes or my aching heart. I thought to myself "you hid that well, Kristina, good job."

I share this story because today I cannot seem to get it out of my mind. How it is that without any warning I am so overcome with emotion that I cannot seem to stop crying..... This weekend was beautiful, magical really and something I will cherish for the rest of my life. It gave me forty eight hours to forget about cancer. To be surrounded by some of my oldest, best friends and to pretend for a while that I am well. 

Saturday, the day of the wedding us girls woke up and I had the joy of surprising other wedding guests. Stephanie's father looked at me as though he saw a ghost. He later apologised saying that he knew it was me, but he didn't know how it could be me, so who was it? 

We spent the day getting ready, gamecasting the Louisville vs. Kentucky football game, drinking mimosas and getting primped for the 5:30 pm wedding.

You will notice that I am the only one in the wedding that chose to wear my hair down. I wanted to feel my hair rest on my shoulder for the last time before it falls out. I wanted to look like me, as best I could. So much of me feels different, out of control, hurting, aching and just different, so it was important to me that on her day and in photos, I was the me that I have always been.

The wedding day was beautiful and full of so much joy. We danced, we laughed and most importantly spent time together. On Sunday, I woke up and joined my high school friends at the market before they had to catch their flight. The rest of the day I explored the city rested in the sun before attending the evening farewell event. Sunday evening was extra special because most of our friends had departed and Stephanie and I were able to spend one on one time together. We visited our favorite wine bar, laughed, cried and ate wedding cake.

I am so glad I got to celebrate her forever. Her wedding. Her future because, "I am not so sure of forevers now. Nothing feels certain". (Geralyn Lucas). I could not agree with this more....

Today I am home in my bed. My parents are on their way to my house and I have two appointments this afternoon. First the diagnostic work for the fertility preservation and then my weekly plastic surgeon saline fill. 

As tears continue to fall. As I try and embrace what this month and Christmas is all about with fear and trembling, your continued prayers are appreciated. This is the hardest path I have yet to walk and I am learning to be a good actress. 

So forgive me or others that you cross paths with that begin to cry next to you..... know that all that they really want to know is that their tears are warranted. That is ok to cry. The persistent "You're going to be fine" is often the worst thing to hear in times like this. Sometimes I want others to acknowledge that they are scared and sad for me too, then it doesn't make me feel so alone.

Have a wonderful Tuesday everyone. Below are some of my favorite wedding pictures:

Trying on my dress in Denver, with my passport.

Wedding day, the four of us. 

Brittany and I with the ruins in the background.

Waiting to take photos.

All of us with Arturo!

Me and the groom!

My second parents and I outside of the wedding.

Christie Lee and I walking to the market Sunday morning.

Sunday afternoon exploring old ruins.