Relay For Life 2015 Speech

For my 20th birthday, my best friends threw me a surprise birthday party. It was the first of many surprises that year and in the years to follow. Surprises that lead me here, speaking to all of you, and as you might have guessed, not all of them were as happy as a surprise birthday party.

I imagined my 20s as any young woman probably would. I would have my first alcoholic beverage, graduate college, and begin my career. Maybe I would even meet that special someone, get married, settle down, and start a family of my own. Instead, I had to face the very real possibility that I might not live to experience any of those things.

Five months into my 20s, I was diagnosed with Leukemia. I woke up one morning in my apartment in Los Angeles where I was attending school, and by that night I was in the emergency room at Swedish Hospital, in Seattle. I will never forget that day. [Pause ­ Look at audience]

I was quickly transferred from Swedish to Seattle Children’s Hospital, where I endured 8 months of outpatient chemotherapy and 10 days of radiation. One month into treatment, I was declared in remission, and thankfully have remained there ever since. Although I was comforted to know that my body was responding well to treatments, the following 7 months of infusions, procedures and isolation did well to remind me just how fragile life really is.

I lived every day of that eight months as best I could. Some days I was almost normal, I would throw a wig on, some of my “real clothes,” and some makeup, and I would be, almost, me. Of course, that version of me had to sit down often, be out for shorter lengths of time and constantly have crackers, water and nausea medication on hand, but beggars can’t be choosers. Those days quickly became known as, “the good days,” and though there weren’t as many as I would have liked, there were far more than I expected.

Unfortunately, along with “good days” came “bad days.” Days where I was too tired or too sick to get out of bed, days where I experienced the “rare” side effect of a new chemo, and endless days spent in the hospital being told that my blood counts were not high enough for me to go home. Besides my physical challenges, I mourned my old self. I was sad to be missing out on the life that I should have been living, sad at the thought of maybe never being able to live it, and sad because I missed being me.

Gratefully, I am now 22 and have been in remission for just over two years. I have been finished with my intense treatment for almost a year and a half, I will finish my two years of maintenance chemotherapy in August, and aside from this hip I’m about to get replaced, I feel amazing. I feel like me. Not the old me, the me that I was before I got sick, but like a new me. Just as familiar as the old version, but so much better.

Yes, I said better. I went through this horrible ordeal at a rare and critical time in my life, so how could I possibly be better than I was before? I will tell you. The old me did not understand or appreciate life the way I do now. As a result of my illness I was abruptly forced to mature, I felt catapulted into adulthood. Instantly, it was as if I could actually grasp the worth of all of the life lessons I had ever heard, and I could finally see how to put them into practice in my own life.

The new me, the new Katherine, appreciates the world and all of its beauty and blessings. She stares a little bit longer at the moon on a clear night, or the mountain on a sunny day. She knows the strength of a community, and the power of a few kind words from a total stranger. She understands how infinitely lucky she is to have the undying love and devotion of her overwhelmingly supportive family and friends. And more than anything, I know how blessed I am to still be here and be allowed the opportunity to appreciate all of those things.

I am still here because of people like you, and events like this, that raise money for cancer research and resources. As of now, there is no cure for cancer, but I am living proof that things are getting better. Slowly, but surely, research and funding have been improving cancer treatments and improving survival rates. And although, as some of us know, all too well, the treatments don’t always work the way we want them to, we know that with continued support of foundations like the American Cancer Society,

and participation in events like Relay for Life, we can play a part in ensuring that the result of cancer treatment is what we want it to be, every single time.

xoxo Kathy

Surgery and Life Update

Hello all of you beautiful people,

As some of you know I had surgery on both of my hips to help with my Avascular Necrosis (AVN) this past Wednesday. AVN is caused by low blood flow to a bone or joint, I have it in both of my femoral heads. In my case it was caused by high dose steroid use during chemotherapy. The low blood flow causes the bone to die and become misshapen which results in a lot of pain! The surgeon drilled holes through my bones to break up the dead bone tissue and allow more blood to reach the area, hopefully resulting in new tissue growth and no more AVN!

AVNsurgery

 

AVNpreop

The surgery went well and I didn’t even have to spend the night in the hospital like we originally thought (thank god). I kicked all of the pain meds after two days and have been able to get around fairly well on my crutches. I even went shopping yesterday! I am so pleased as I have a lot of exciting stuff coming up in the next few weeks and a lot of it was dependent on how I’d be feeling after this procedure!

Next week I will be participating in a panel at the SMAHRT (Social Media and Adolescent Health Research Team) Conference put on by the Seattle Children’s Research Institute. The next day, I’m jumping on a plane and heading to a camp for young adult cancer patients in Arizona. The camp is being put on by the Dream Street Foundation and it is at a spa! To be honest, I’m a little nervous because there is supposed to be a lot of heartfelt talks and group therapy which is something I have been avoiding for months. I’m hoping to have a great experience and meet some cool people, and if all else fails, at least its at a spa!

Lastly, I am finally moving back to LA! Most of you know that I was living in LA and going to design school before I got sick. Most of you probably don’t know that since I got back and began chemo, all I’ve been trying to do is get back there! The thought of getting back to LA and back to my friends and my life was what got me through the dark times in my chemotherapy. It’s taken me longer than I thought it would, but I never gave up and now I’m finally going to be moving back! I can’t wait for August to start and for me to start taking my life back for real!

Look out world!

xoxo Kathy

PS I’ll be continuing my Leukoenceph. story this week!! Click here for part 1 or part 2

AVN Update

I filmed this video last night after I got home from my appointment with the AVN specialist/surgeon. Not the best news, but not the worst news.

I got fitted for my crutches today. Other than that I’m just super stressed with all of this going on and prepping for Ireland on Friday! There’s so much to do!

xoxo Kathy

Post Port Removal Portlessness

***Warning, the second image is of the procedure site, therefore a little bloody***hospitalgownswagger

One year and one week later and I am now port free! The surgery went well and after a day of recovery spent sleeping off anesthesia and pain medication, I am feeling like my normal self again. The pain was much less than getting the port put in, in fact today I see no need for meds and only feel a bit of discomfort around the area.

If you watched the video I posted the other day (click here), then you know that I was feeling a little apprehensive about the whole procedure. There were two reasons for this, one being that I did not have the best team of doctors/nurses when I got the port put in, and the other being more based on superstition.

Fortunately for this procedure I had an amazing medical support team. Everyone was so kind and comforting. If I’ve learned anything through this experience, its that you have to trust your medical team. Having faith in the people who are taking care of you just makes the whole experience more tolerable. Sometimes the only thing that gets you through the pokes, prods and constant hospital visits is knowing that your going to get to see your favorite nurse/doctor, etc. Most of my nerves subsided after I met the anesthesiologists and nurses who would be with me during the surgery.

stabwound

They were definitely nothing like the surgery team I’d had the previous year who seemed grumpy and upset with me, the patient, throughout the whole process. I specifically remember feeling anxious when I entered the OR, anxiety which only increased as I could hear my heart rate steadily increasing on the monitor. Instead of some kind words from the people around me, the anesthesiologist told me to “stop freaking out.” This was the last thing I heard before I fell asleep. Things were no better when I woke up several hours later to the same man berating me for gagging as they pulled the intubation tube out of my throat. These things might not have upset me so much had this not been my first procedure after being diagnosed with cancer a few days earlier.

Having had this happen, I am so thankful that the rest of my experiences, including my removal process, have been with some of the most amazing, kind and loving medical staff on the planet.

My other fears for getting my port removed where quite silly. I was beginning to tie my port and it’s placement in my chest to my remission status. Any apprehensions that I had for getting the port taken out which stemmed from these thoughts and fears was illogical, and I knew that. This is why I went ahead and removed the port. I knew that I couldn’t make this decision out of fear. My cancer will not come back because my port is gone. If it comes back it will be because that is what is meant to be. Keeping/removing my port will not change that.

All in all, I am glad that I did not feed these fears by cancelling the procedure. I feel the same without it as I did with it, happy and healthy!

Hope you all are having a lovely start to your week!

xoxo Kathy

Thursday

I know, I know. I didn’t post anything for Wednesday, but I had an awesome day so I don’t regret it! And I’m not going to let a small lapse keep me from continuing on in my quest to become an avid blogger, so here is a quick video of me blabbing about my upcoming port removal surgery. Hope you enjoy it! Off to the gym for me!

Port_Love