5things

Now, I’m not going to profess that I know everything there is to know about cancer, or anywhere close to that, but having been a cancer patient I think I have a pretty good idea of what we, or at least I, think people should know about cancer. Especially since I knew little to nothing about the disease or its fighters before I was slapped in the face with a diagnosis myself. Realizing and admitting that you are ignorant is not easy, it’s sort of like swallowing vinegar or 250 mg of prednisone, but once its done you have the opportunity to open your eyes and your mind to reality. You have the ability to learn, understand and analyze the things that really matter in this life, to see what goes on in the world and play a part in making it a better place. More than that, you can inform and help others in doing the same thing.

Of course, I don’t meant to call anyone ignorant, but I know that I was ignorant to many things when I was diagnosed with Leukemia at age 20 and since that diagnosis I have begun to pay more attention to everything going on in the world, starting with cancer. Everything that I knew about cancer was surface level, and honestly, that might be saying too much. Most of my detailed knowledge was from television, which basically means that I knew nothing besides the generic details that I’m sure everyone knows. Cancer of a particular area, spreads or doesn’t spread, different stages, chemo/radiation, works or doesn’t work. This left me totally unprepared for a cancer diagnosis, which is exactly what I got. I believe that if I knew what I know now then, I would have had a smoother transition than I did. And my hope is that by creating this list of things that I wish I knew, I can help others to cope with their diagnosis.

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The Hollywood version of cancer is often an over-dramatization of what the cancer experience is really like. Sometimes the information and images shown on television and in movies is not accurate or out of date. For example, I was diagnosed with Leukemia, a term I remember hearing for the first time when I caught my Dad (I know, right?) watching A Walk To Remembereveryone’s favorite cancer movie about a teenage girl with Leukemia who falls in love. Well, that movie was made in 2002 and I was diagnosed in 2013, so when my mind immediately jumped to that movie after hearing the words “Leukemia,” I was panicking for nothing. Ten years later, cancer treatment is leaps and bounds from where it was back then. Of course, I didn’t know that then, but you do now, which brings me to my second point.

2thingScientifically, medically, you bet, things are getting good! No, there is not a cure for cancer, not yet anyway, but things are improving and will continue to until there is a cure for everyone. However, treatments are improving, people are surviving, things are getting organized and stuff is getting done. I think a lot of people don’t realize the progress scientists and doctors have been making in the past decade. Sometimes, when a problem isn’t right in our faces we don’t pay attention to it until a breakthrough happens, t least, that’s how I thought about things, “There hasn’t been a newscast for the cure of cancer so things must still be pretty bleak over in cancer-land.” This just isn’t the case. Chemotherapy and radiation are still what is used to treat cancer, but treatments are catered to the individual, to each case, to the specific cancer. We learn more and more about the disease, the drugs, the treatments everyday, whether its broadcasted or not!

3thingSo this is really cool. Sometimes I think maybe I’m the only person who didn’t know about this stuff before I was diagnosed but I figure, if I didn’t know there’s bound to be others! Everyone knows that chemo and radiation make you uncomfortable, they make you nauseous and give you pain, along with a myriad of other symptoms. It is only reasonable to assume that there are resources to counteract these symptoms. And there are! My personal favorite is nausea medicine. I have lived in gripping fear of nausea and vomiting for my entire life so my biggest concern with going through chemo was that I would have to deal with it every day for 8 months. Finding out about Zofran (my personal favorite) and several other nausea treatment options literally saved my life. I am proud to say that in eight months of intense chemotherapy I threw up a total of one time, that’s right one. So don’t be afraid of chemo, like I was, because there are plenty of resources to help you deal with the side effects!

4thing

This is something that I cannot stress the importance of enough. If I have cemented one thing into my mind from going through this whole ordeal it is that everyone is unique in our thoughts, paths, personality, and physicality. How does that relate to cancer? When I was sick I found myself comparing my illness and my experience to others around me. I knew that this was unhealthy and tried to avoid hearing about other cancer patients as much as possible. It is extremely difficult to keep your spirits up when you hear about someone with the same cancer as you dying. In these times, I soothed myself by reminding myself of the facts. We are all different. Everyone in the world, everyone with cancer, everyone with leukemia. All of my experiences are my own, my cancer is unique to me, my treatment roadmap, my doses, my schedule, my body is my own and it unlike anyone else’s. Sure we might overlap in some areas, we might have had the same drugs, but we had different side effects. So take comfort in the fact that you’re different, you’re you, and no matter what anyone else says about their friend who had this or their doctor who said that, your on your own individual journey.

5thing

When I was diagnosed I had a hard time dealing with the fact that I didn’t have a choice. I had to drop everything and become a full time cancer patient. I had to spend a good part of the week at the hospital willingly injecting myself with poison so that I might have a chance at living. It took me a while to be able to focus on the fact that there are some things in this life that we just cannot control. My own personal tsunami. But once I accepted this fact, I was able to move forward. Acceptance is the first step to recovery. The first step towards focusing on what really matters and what you actually are capable of influencing. Like if you want to be treated, where you want to be treated, how you are going to handle this crisis, what you are going to do after its over. When I realized that not being able to make one decision, gave me the opportunity to make so many more, like the decision to write this blog right now, it made everything hurt a little less. It enabled me to take back my power from the universe, to stop being the victim and to start being the fighter.

Knowledge is so powerful, and though knowing these things won’t stop the hurt, the sadness, the anger, the fear, I hope that it will lessen the blow for someone out there.

xoxo Kathy

I miss being sick???

It sounds crazy, right?

How could someone miss being poked, prodded, injected, cut open, bed-ridden and drugged up 24/7? I didn’t know the answer to that question either until I started to feel that way and it FUH-REAKED me out. I mean, I lived it, I hated it, it was extremely difficult, but I did it. And then it was over. Right? I mean, RIGHT?!

Wrong.

It’s not over. Even now that I’ve completed the circle, I’ve moved back to LA, I’m restarting my independent, adult life, it’s still not over. And that’s the kicker.

When changes happen in our lives it is only natural to have repercussive emotional responses. Knowing this, I was prepared to feel unsettled, uncomfortable, maybe a little bit depressed and out of place after my move. Even though I know that this is what I want and what I needed to do, I knew that I wouldn’t be able to help having those negative feelings and doubts. I was also expecting to feel emotional about “completing the circle,” ending my cancer experience and accomplishing my goal. However, I was not anticipating all of those emotions correlating. I was not expecting to feel uncomfortable and unsettled because I completed the circle. Neither was I expecting to think things like, “Everything was so much more simple when I was sick,” or “Life was great when I could just lie in bed and watch Netflix all day and it was OK.” I was there, it was not simple and it was not great. But still, now, when I think about it, it seems natural, it seems normal.

When I was diagnosed, I had to make a new normal for myself. I wasn’t aware of myself doing it, adjusting to it, I just did. Everything changed and even though it felt uncomfortable a lot of the time, and it wasn’t where I wanted to be or what I wanted to be doing, it became normal. My comfort zone turned into a hospital waiting room, exam room, chemo room, etc. It relaxed me to watch for blood return from my port as the nurses loaded me up with chemo. Or to watch the blood drip from the bags into the tubing reservoirs, then down the tubes into my body. The medical jargon, the blood counts, the systems of the hospital became familiar. They became my normal without me even really noticing.

So you see, I was surprised. Not that my move made me miss my home, my family, or my home-life. I was expecting to miss those things. But that it made me miss my patient life, my cancer life, my normal.

I think it makes sense when you think about it that way, to miss being sick. It’s natural to feel emotional when you go through a big change, just like it’s natural to adapt to those changes whether you are aware of it or not. Over time, we adjust and we heal, it is just human nature.

Just some thoughts..

xoxo Kathy

Full Circle

So here we are again.

Some of you may know that over this past week I’ve been in the process of moving from Seattle to Los Angeles. What a lot of you probably don’t know is why.

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This move is very important to me. It is very scary but it also feels vital, I have to do it. I was living in LA and had just graduated from FIDM (The Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising) when I got diagnosed with cancer. Well, it was suspected that I had cancer so I went home immediately to get diagnosed but, you get the gist. I had been in LA for just about 15 months. I had suffered through those terrible first three where you miss your family, your home, everything normal. I had forged irreplaceable friendships and created my own home, my own community, my new normal. And then I was ripped out of “my life,” and shoved into a totally new one. Literally, I found out I “might” have cancer in the morning and by the evening I was on a plane home. My roommates had to pack up all of my belongings (some of which are still here, btw) and send them to WA.

Sure, I could have stayed in LA if I wanted to. If I wanted to suffer through it alone, burden my friends with the responsibility of taking care of me, of watching me lose myself over and over again. But I knew what was best and even though I didn’t necessarily want to I knew that I had to go back home. I don’t regret that decision, I needed to be with my family. But that didn’t make it any easier for me to leave my “new” family, it broke my heart.

I still remember when the doctor came in to diagnose me and I asked, “When can I go back?,” and he said, “It will be at least eight months.” So there it was. Eight months. My biggest fear was that during those eight months, my LA community would dwindle, my irreplaceable friends would forget about me and move on. They’d get caught up in the constant motion of LA and leave me in the dust. I mean, I’d only known them for a year or less-than, and I didn’t know if they valued my friendship as much as I valued theirs.

Truth be told, I don’t care that much about LA. Yeah I love the beach, I love the shopping, I love how modern and cool everything is. But I don’t feel like I can’t find just as many or just as spectacular things to love in Seattle or anywhere else for that matter. I care about my friends. I wasn’t sitting at home thinking I’ve got to beat this, I’ve got to survive cancer. I was thinking, I’ve got to do this, I’ve got to take this chemo so that I can get to the eighth month and go home, back to LA, back to my beautiful friends. As far as I’m concerned, the chemo fought the cancer, I fought the emotional repercussions and tried my best to enjoy my time in Washington with my family. But I did it all with a fire fueled by my determination to get back to Los Angeles.

Fortunately, they didn’t leave me in the dust. They were amazing and supportive and even made trek up to visit me in Seattle a few times while I was sick. But even though I was comforted to know that our relationships could thrive despite the distance, it didn’t alter the way that I felt about moving back to LA. I felt like it wasn’t fair, the way that I had to leave. I wanted to come back, even if its just for a while, so that I could have the opportunity to make the choice of my own accord.

After eight months, I still couldn’t go. I had to wait two more months to begin maintenance chemo, and then still another three months to get the doses of that stabilized. At that point it just seemed silly for me to move because my family was going to Hawaii and Ireland within a month of each other. And after that it would basically be June, which is important because at the end of July, my old roommates would have an opening for a roommate. So why would I put myself through all of the torture of finding my own place or new roommates, when I could just wait a few months, do some traveling, visit LA as often as possible and then move back in with my best friends? I wouldn’t, and I didn’t.

So here I am. Sixteen months later, sitting in my apartment which I share with two of my best friends (and Kim who is fast becoming a third) writing my first blog post of this new chapter in my life. Oh, and Val’s here too.

It feels a little scary to actually be here, but it feels right at the same time. I’ve officially completed the circle.

xoxo Kathy

My week on Dream Street

Hello to my wonderful friends,

Did you miss me? Did you even notice that I was gone? It didn’t feel like I was. It felt like I was in a dream. Please watch this video to see why!

Did you watch it? I hope so!

I promise, the follow up for my Leukoenceph. story will be up this week before I begin my long drive back to LA!

Here’s a few pics of the trip and a video of me zip lining for you to enjoy:

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First group photo!

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Beautiful view!

10527298_10203329063002008_1527107807410751017_nThree of the “Scooter Girls”

photo 2-2The rock that I painted to leave at Canyon Ranch

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Group photo after funk class!

photo 3Beautiful fountain!

photo 4Putting our crutches to good use after my scooter died!

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The scooter girls minus our scooters!

photo 3-2One of the javelina’s we found!

10464269_10105222538328204_7496280548348212800_nOur last group photo!

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Path to the labyrinth/beautiful view!

And here is me on the zip line!

xoxo Kathy

Déjà Vu

Twice today I experienced déjà vu and it got me thinking. Once this morning, when my aunt decided to venture out and pick up breakfast burritos. The prospect of having a delicious breakfast burrito made me the back to the last time that I had one which I realized was, coincidentally, almost exactly one year ago. Last year at the beginning of August I was in San Diego/LA, enjoying the best breakfast burrito I’ve ever had.

I decided to move downstairs to eat. So I hobbled down on my crutches and sat at our kitchen table. From there, I had a decent view of outside, and noticed that someone had finally reset the patio furniture which had been strewn about the yard since my sister’s graduation party. I promptly decided to move outside and as I sat down on one of our cushy whicker chairs and looked out at our lush, sun drenched yard I realized that almost exactly a year ago I was doing this very same thing. I was resting outside on the patio furniture, set almost exactly as it is today, breathing in fresh air and trying to heal my aching body. Thankfully, this time I’m only trying to heal my aching hips.

These weird coincidences got me thinking about how much has changed since then and how much is changing still, but how much is still exactly the same. Peoples lives change all the time. My life, for example, has changed a great deal over the past few years. I graduated highs school and moved to away to a new city all on my own. I made amazing new friends in my new home and started at a great school. A year later, I graduated from that school and was promptly diagnosed with cancer. Shortly after, I moved back to my hometown where my cancer remised. And through all of these changes there are still things in my life that are exactly the same.

I often think that cancer changed me, completely. That the old Katherine died during that period of my life and what came out of it was a different Katherine, a better one. But I don’t think that’s true anymore. I have changed so much throughout the last few years, cancer probably being the most impactful, but I am still the same me. There are things about the person that I am today that are the same as the person I was before. Little things that make me, me. Like my favorite places to go, my favorite things to do, my favorite people to be with, my favorite restaurants, my favorite stores and my good and bad habits. The little things that have always made me tick, and always will.

Nothing will ever really change all of who you are. You can change the way you behave, the way you react, the ways that you live your life, but there are some things about you, the things that make you who you are, that will never change. So don’t worry, because you’ll ALWAYS be you!

xoxo Kathy