I’m Still Here

Today is the eve of my 22nd birthday. I have always been a fan of birthdays, I mean why not? You basically get to walk around and flaunt how special you are because you were born. You get presents and hugs and smiles and everyone loves you for one whole day. But this year, I feel differently. I don’t feel excited, I don’t feel like bouncing around and shouting and the top of my lungs that “IT’S MY BIRTHDAY!” Instead I feel accomplished, I feel proud, I made it one more year, I am still here. I am not excited because I’m turning one year older I am excited because I am able to turn one year older. And I feel like that’s wrong, like I need to keep it a secret. No one wants to celebrate that I’m still alive, like me. I’ll tell you why they don’t: It makes people uncomfortable to talk about reality, it makes people uncomfortable to talk about dying.

Listen, I get it. It’s not like I love to think about dying but it’s something that I think about a lot because I have to. I’m a planner. I like to be in control. I prefer always to be realistic about my circumstances but hope for the best outcome. So when faced with cancer, I had to look at all of my options and plan for the best and the worst scenario. I’d say that’s life and death here. Planning for life is very easy. You think of all the things you want to do if you survive and then you start trying to do all of them as soon as possible. It probably won’t go how you planned, keep smiling.

How do you plan for death? Well, it’s very simple. You start thinking things like this, “If I died right now, would I be okay with that?” The word “okay” here means a few different things like am I happy, do I feel good, am I satisfied with my last day, did I do things I wanted to today, am I in a good mood. If the answer to any of these questions is no, than you better turn your day around right quick. This is also surprisingly easy to do. You simply adjust your attitude. A novel concept that my mother has repeated to me thousands of times throughout my life, sometimes with a lovely threat attached at the end. A concept that I never figured out was so easily under my control until I spent everyday wondering if it would by my last.

You see, your attitude, your emotions, your perspective, they are entirely under your control. So if you don’t feel happy or something annoying happened like you got a flat tire, and now you’re going to be late, and you’re dog chewed up all of your new underwear, and then she threw up on the carpet, and everything is just going wrong today and it has put you in a horrible mood, you can just decide to be happy about it. I mean really, what is the best way to get back at your annoying sibling for doing something just to piss you off? Ignore them, ignore what they did, what they’re doing. You say, “Hey universe, I know you’re trying your best to get me down today but good frikkin luck cause I’m just HAPPY!” You can actually sing that last part.

And that is how you conquer the fear of death and embrace one of the many secrets of life. Even now, while I seem to be well on my way over this mountain, I still check in with myself. I may no longer fear dying but I do fear the unknown. I’m afraid of what will happen tomorrow. But I know that all I can do is be happy, keep my attitude in check, and keep smiling.

In regards to my birthday: It is a celebration of my survival for one more year. I don’t think I will ever think of it in any other terms again. Of course, it’s a happy day, but there can also be tears. I will cry, for myself and all of my suffering. I’ll also cry for all of the beautiful angels who didn’t make it to another year. And I will wonder, why me? Why am I so lucky? I will be so grateful that I am still here, I will embrace the beauty of the world all around me and the wonderful people that I get to share it with. And I will love myself for being so strong. I will not tell everyone I see, or wear a tiara, or a sash. I will silently smile, and let the overpowering feeling of accomplishment wash over me as I repeat to myself in my mind “I’m still here.”

xoxo Katherine


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What 2013 Gave Me

I never would have described myself as a glass-half-full sort of person before this year. Not because I was a negative, glass-half-empty sort of person before but because I have never experienced something so unique or scary or enlightening or profound as I have in 2013. Something happened to me that I had no control over at all. There was nothing I could do to stop it or change it. The only thing I could choose was how I was going to live with it. And LIVE WITH IT is EXACTLY what I did. I crashed head-on into a lemon tree this year, but I’ve figured out how to make some damn good lemonade.

Here is my 2013, the bad, the good and the really, really, really good.

  • I got a tattoo on my leg.

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  • I graduated from FIDM, and made some really bad ass shit.

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  • I went to Disneyland with my sisters.
  • IMG_1955I got diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia and had to move back to Washington.

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  • I fell madly in love.

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  • I rocked a bald head.

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  • I got a new car.

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  • I experienced what it’s like to be trapped in your own body and have no control over your movements and actions or the ability to speak or function normally and had this tube shoved down my nose via leukoencephalopathy, fuck you very much methotrexate.

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  • I redecorated my bedroom and got a badass TV.

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  • I spoke at two cancer benefit events

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  • I bonded with my family

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  • I went to some dark places. (but I only threw up once)

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  • I missed my best friends.

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  • I went to my first Seahawks game, sat in the Red Zone at met Russell Wilson!

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  • And I gained a new sense of community. I experienced the kindness and compassion of family, friends, acquaintances and strangers. I learned more than I ever could have expected.

Getting cancer is horrible, but getting through it is amazing. I don’t know if other people can see it the way that I do, but in the end, I gained so much more than I lost this year, and a lot of it wouldn’t have happened without Leukemia. Life happens, whether you want it to or not and sometimes you just have to roll with the punches, and enjoy what you can with the people you love. Thank you to everyone who has reached out to me, supported me, prayed for me, thought of me, donated blood, donated money, done anything for me or my family or cancer research. I may not have responded at times, but I have appreciated everything that has been done for me so greatly and I hope that everyone who has tried to support me knows that.

2013, I’m not sad to see you go, but you were good to me. Overall, you were good to me.

xoxo,

Kathy