You Never Know…..

I thought I had life figured out at 24.  Great job….great life….sure about my future.  Life always has a different plan, though.  I learned that.  But I had no idea exactly how different the plan for my life would be.  Everything is as it should be….but every turn has been a wake up call that you are not in control!

I’ve never been a person to be in the spotlight.  I’ve always been a behind the scenes girl.  Sure….I’ve sung in church and was forced to be in plays, but other than that…..I’ve been happy to sit on the sidelines and cheer for those who can shine.  There was always that secret part of me that thought it would be cool…..but really….it was never me.

Getting diagnosed with cancer put me in a spotlight I didn’t like at the time.  I didn’t want anyone to know I was sick or what I was going through.  I was extremely worried that everyone could tell by looking at me.  But as time went by…..going through treatment and everything….I began to change.  I became more open about what I was going through.  I didn’t have a clear idea of any mission…..but I felt strongly that people needed to know what I was going through.  So they could understand it, be part of it, relate to it.  I didn’t know then, but I know now, that this was the beginning of a crazy new life.  I can’t say that cancer was a blessing….but something you have to find the good out of a horrible situation.

I started to meet other cancer survivors and those fighting it.  I started slowly getting involved.  At first it was Relay for Life.  I walked every year.  I have a ton of survivor pins and shirts.  I looked forward to it.  As I met more people, I became involved in more things.  What stands out most is meeting my friend Denise Bohn.  She was like a magnet.  I was drawn to her from the moment I heard of her.  She is known locally to me, but for anyone else…..Denise was a news anchor for local tv and radio stations.  She was diagnosed with breast cancer after me, and was very public about it.  I was intrigued by this woman who was so bold to share her story with EVERYONE!  She didn’t care that she was a public figure.  She wanted to spread awareness and give hope to others.  I wanted to know her.  It would be years later that I got that chance, and it started a friendship I’m forever grateful for.  She invited me to be part of so many things, and the most important to me was the Pink Tie Ball.  I started as a committee member and photographer, and then she made me speak.  If you knew her…you knew you didn’t say no.  She had a way of making you want to be part of it.  She changed my life.  When I lost her…..I lost a huge part of my heart.  She inspired me so much……but I never expected to be walking in her shoes.  I was blessed to take on the job she left behind.  It was humbling and inspiring.  I met some of the most amazing people and became part of some of the most amazing events.  I would speak at them, host them, help plan them, support them.  I felt like I was all over the place and living a dream life.  And it was a dream life! Truly……there are some things I’ve been able to do that have just been amazing.  And if not for her encouragement, I would never have started being involved.

This past weekend I hosted the 4th annual Pink Tie Ball.  The 2nd without her.  Standing at that podium and addressing all the guests still felt like a dream.  How is this my life?  The reality of this event going on without her hits me hard sometimes.  This was her baby….her dream.  Sometimes I really feel strange standing in her place.  I’ve been told that she was grooming me for this…..getting me prepared for something like this in my life.  Maybe she saw potential in me.  All I know is…..life is so crazy and twisted.  And funny….in weird way.  I’ve been able to introduce people I love to the world to share their stories.  Like she did for me.  I have been able to encourage and support people.  Like she did.  I will never say I’m like her…..but I’ve been able to honor her life with my actions.

Was there a point to this blog?  I’m not sure.  I’m coming out of my Pink Tie Ball coma.  Life is just crazy sometimes….and after our 2nd time doing this event without Denise….it’s still so emotional.  I’m so grateful for the time I had with her, grateful for the person she helped me become, and grateful for having the chance to continue her mission.  Even if that means I have to talk in front of people.  Maybe my point is…don’t be afraid of what happens, or what can happen.  You aren’t in control….there is a destiny for you.  Sometimes it’s not what you ever expected…..but it can be what you needed.

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Katie 🙂

p.s.  I miss you so much Denise.  ❤

I Don’t Always Feel Strong

I’ve started so many blog ideas the past couple of weeks….different ideas, situations, themes.  I wanted to find something perfect and inspirational to write about.  What if I don’t want to be inspirational this time?  Sometimes life is just……blah.

And that is my life this week.  About 5 days ago I came down with shingles.  Not my first time, probably won’t be my last.  I’ve had shingles in varying levels of awful, but this time….it knocked me down.  My entire left arm, left side of my back and chest….all the areas affected by radiation and cancer.  This is not a pain or experience I would wish on anyone.  It’s awful.  I was forced to rest, which sounds amazing, but there is only so much resting your body can take!  Fevers came, my appetite left, and of course I became dehydrated.  Today…..I’m just ok.  I’ll probably need a nap after this, which makes me feel sad and want to laugh at the same time.

This is just one of the many things I have to deal with after cancer.  I hate that.  Didn’t I go through enough?  Sometimes it just gets so frustrating….and I try to be positive, but times like this bring the negativity to the surface.  And anyone can say you deserve to have your bad and negative days, but that helps nothing.  I mentioned to my husband that I feel like something is always going on with me now.  I used to be so strong and healthy, and now it feels like I can’t get through a month without something going wrong.

Some days….I think it’s ok just to be really pissed about what cancer did to you.  You can’t live there……but you get to have that.  And today…..I’m just really pissed.

Katie.

Chemo Brain and Shaved Heads

I promised to talk about my time during chemo, and I’m going to! But…..there is much I don’t remember.  My entire cancer experience was done before social media, so I didn’t document much.  I was given a journal in one of my many “you have cancer so here’s some stuff” bags…..and I really tried to write down what was going on….but I only got one page done and it was my typical ~ Dear Diary….I will be better at writing in you this time!  That didn’t happen…..again.

My treatment time was a blur.  There was so much going on, not just dealing with cancer.  I was still in training for a difficult and high stress job, planning a wedding, and getting chemo/radiation.  No big deal, right?  To say I was exhausted is an understatement. I somehow found an inner strength I didn’t know existed in me and I made it all work.  But that is why my memories of that time are blurry and skewed.  Pictures help…..and some standout moments.   So……I will start recalling some of those moments over my next entries here…..

I do remember the day of my first chemo.  It was 9/25/2003, a Thursday.  I know that because I was married exactly one year from this date.  And Thursday was chosen based on the information my doctor gave me about chemo reactions.  I was able to have a flex schedule at work, where I worked 9 hours a day, 4 days a week, and 4 hours on the 5th day.  So I worked 4 hours on Thursday, and went straight to chemo.  Every 3 weeks I’d get my full treatment of Carboplatin, Taxotere, and Herceptin.  Then every week it would just be the Herceptin.

That first day my mom came with me.  I wasn’t sure I wanted her there, but was grateful later.  They were so crowded that day, it made me sad there were so many people getting treatment.  I was put in a room with another women who was getting her treatment already.  Her name was Ellen.  She was the nicest lady, and her daughter was with her.  Ironic…..since my mom came with me.  Actually, at one point they left to get us some food from McDonald’s 🙂  Ellen became my chemo buddy….and I wish I could remember our exact conversations, or any meaningful interactions.  All I have is the memory of her making me feel less anxious and more comfortable.

The treatment itself wasn’t especially memorable.  I remember the first one starting at watching the poison creep through the line until it went into my port.  I almost expected an instant reaction or feeling…..but there was nothing.  I suppose that was good…and it probably gave me a false sense of relief that I’d have no reactions at all!  Of course that wouldn’t be the case, but I felt great that day.  And I felt great the next day…..and the next….and the next.  It was the Monday after that it all came crashing down on me.  I was at work, eating some instant oatmeal.  It was apple cinnamon.  I didn’t even finish the bowl before everything I ate came rushing back up.  I went home after that.  After that I called in sick every Monday after my full treatment.  Tuesday wasn’t much better, but I could still function and I had no choice but to work.  That was one of the hardest things….going to work on those awful days when I just couldn’t function.  I used all my energy to get myself to work and do my job.

I was referred to a local place by my oncologist to figure out my hair situation.  They told me my hair would likely start falling out within the first 2 weeks of my first chemo treatment.  I hated having to do this….and to this day, seeing pictures of women wearing wigs in ads make me nauseous.  I met Sharie at a place called Studio I and she helped me pick out a wig.  I of course wanted something that would seem like a smooth transition…something that wouldn’t be obvious.  I guess I really thought that no one would notice, even though everyone knew.  Well…..of course once my hair started coming out…it came out fast.  I remember people asking me if it had started coming out yet, and I’d comb my hand through it and hold out a handful of hair.  They would always look horrified….I thought it was funny.  But once it got too bad….and very obvious I wouldn’t last much longer, I made the appointment to pick up my wig and get it fitted.  That day……ugh.  It was a Friday, and I went right after work.  Adam came with me.  And that night….Sharie shaved my head and fit my wig.  Looking back, I wish I’d taken video or pictures, but that wasn’t part of my mindset yet.  Again….before Facebook….even Myspace! 😉  I do know that we decided to shave in some funny looks…a mohawk was part of it.   As always, I have to make it funny or I’d fall apart.  I left there with my new hair…..and the feeling of really being a cancer patient.  People will always say that your hair is the least of your worries when you are fighting for your life…..but until it’s you, you don’t know.  The last thing you want is to have such a public image of your personal medical issue.  And no matter how vain it sounds…..your hair is part of your identity.  It’s a statement of your personality, your creativity, your style.  Having that taken away makes you question who you even are anymore.  Just another cancer patient.  Many people don’t realize you don’t just lose the hair on your head….but eventually every single hair on your body.  You may have some super strong hairs holding on for dear life…so you may end up with a Homer Simpson style, and you don’t dare pull those hairs out….you let them live!!!  And actually….writing about it now makes me cry.  It was traumatic and one of the many parts of cancer I wouldn’t wish on anyone.

Over the course of my treatment I became very close to the staff.  Many of them were my age….and it was actually nice to have people who didn’t treat me like a sick person.  Funny….that it was the people at my doctor’s office that didn’t treat me like I was going to break 🙂  It was their support every week that helped me get through…..they were just amazing.  They are still part of my life…..and it’s because of them I’m still here! I truly believe that!

At some point during my treatment I stopped seeing Ellen.  At first I thought maybe she changed days……but as time went on I found that she had lost her battle.  It broke my heart.  She was my first major cancer loss, and I actually felt so guilty that I was still here.  I will always remember how at ease she made me feel…..knowing she was sitting next to me all those weeks fighting for her life.

Below are pictures of my many cancer looks during treatment.  The last picture is one I came across recently that I didn’t know I had.  It’s a very real picture of what cancer is really like.

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There is more……but I’ll save for another time.  I think I’ll take some time to cry now.  Sometimes reliving or remembering is just too much…..but by sharing, I hope that other people will know they aren’t alone.  And I really want people to know there is someone out there that understands those awful days.  Sometimes those days just suck.

Katie

2017

Well, the sun is setting on another year! Cliche?  Yes….but then I get to use my sunset picture!

This past year was full of ups and downs, as all years are.  There were some major losses and disappointments……but I’m deciding to focus on the positives of 2017.  Maybe this is my resolution for 2018, but it really should be an everyday thing.  So I’m leaving all the pain, bitterness, sadness, and loss of this year where it should stay.  In 2017.

This year was filled with some amazing times and opportunities!!!  I can never be more grateful for all the things I’ve been able to do and the amazing people who were part of it!

Just to name a few of the highlights…..I was part of an amazing group of people who pulled off the extremely successful Pink Tie Ball in February! We raised $20K to help those affected by breast cancer in our community!  I made the decision to leave my job at Komen Michigan and take on a new role in my life with Studio I, and am currently training to be a fitter for mastectomy bras and prosthetics!  I’ve seen so many concerts my head is spinning! Some of my favorites were Rusted Root, Phish, all the incredible acts at Bonnaroo, including one of my all time favorites, MARTINA MCBRIDE!!!!   I was able to visit family over spring break and see some great sites!  I witnessed 3 beautiful people get married!  I took a baby step back in to photography, something I’ve missed so much! All of my kiddos are healthy and thriving, and my hubby is doing great in his business!  And most recently…..I put myself in to the world of blogging!

Check out the slide show below of some of my favorite moments!  This also allowed me to indulge in my obsession with collages 😉

Thank you to everyone who made 2017 a memorable year.  I do realize how blessed I am to be here and see another year begin! Happy New Year!!!

Katie 🙂

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Letting Go

I wanted to write something about Christmas…..but right now I’m not feeling so festive. Some things have happened in my family, that I won’t go in to, but it’s making my heart hurt and I’m having a hard time letting go of the bad feelings the situation has created.  This brings up some memories of times I went through during my cancer treatments….so I will write about that, and how I came through it.  I’m hoping it will help me remember it’s possible to work through something that breaks your heart……because it is possible….but right now it feels like too much.

When I was first diagnosed, I received all the appropriate responses and promises of support.  At that age though….most of my friends hadn’t dealt with something so serious in life. Maybe I’ve always been prepared better than most, with all the crap I’ve gone through in my life….but that’s another story.   I also had people I never expected to be there to show up….which was amazing.  You never know how a person will be under pressure or when faced with life’s actual hardships….until it’s there.

I was in full swing wedding planning.  I had picked my perfect dress….and was making payments on it.  My maid-of-honor was supposed to go with me one day to see my dress and look at bridesmaids dresses.  I also would need to make a payment, and at that time during my treatment, I couldn’t drive that far.  I needed her, and the plans worked out perfectly!  I was excited to start looking at dresses for my girls and spend time with friend.  We’d been friends since high school and she was one girl I could be weird with.  I’m not a person who likes to keep my silly and weird self hidden, and we got along great.  Except…..she always cancelled on me and it always seemed she was hoping for something better to come along.  I always pushed those feelings away in hopes I was just paranoid…..but having your mortality staring you in the face makes you see things differently.  I didn’t have time for bad people anymore.

The day of this event came and I excitedly waited for her to pick me up.  And waited.  And waited.  I called her cell…several times.  Maybe I had the time wrong?  Maybe she was dead on the side of the road?  After hours…..of nothing…..no calls, no friend, I gave up.  My husband (then fiance) offered to drive me, but by the time we would have left they would be closed.  I was just devastated.  And done.  I’d finally had enough.  Enough of feeling not good enough, second, forgotten, and just treated badly.  And tired of feeling broken-hearted by a person who claimed to love me.  Done.  I stopped calling.  The next day….yes….THE NEXT DAY…..she finally called.  I let it go to voicemail.  She said….while laughing, I guess I should have called you….blah blah blah.  She had no good excuse….just her being her.  And I was done.  She tried several times to reach me, as I wouldn’t respond.  I was finally at that point.  And it was sad.  I had a hard time not reaching out to her….because for years she was the person I called when things were bad.  Or good.  Or anything.  I made the choice to cut her out, but it didn’t stop be from being sad or missing her.  There comes a point when you have to cut out the toxic people from your life, no matter how much you love them.  You have to let them go, otherwise they will consume your life with sadness and their own twisted views of relationships.

She was not in my wedding after that…..and didn’t attend.  There was more after that initial event, but not much more I want to talk about.  It’s not worth it anymore.  That is how I know I can get through what is happening right now.  Some day I will be able to look back and say…..it’s possible to go on.  Right now it hurts so much.  To lose a person who makes the decision to hurt and leave…..but I try to remind myself that their actions and decisions reflect more on who they are than who I am.  I’m a person who gives many second chances….but when I’m done….I’m done.

Going through cancer taught me a lot about who I am.  I love more deeply of those in my life…..but I’m also a lot more picky about who I let in.  Life is too short to allow people to bring you down and make you feel less than you are.  The people in your life should make you feel accepted, loved, and supported.  I’m not afraid anymore to let people go…..no matter how much it hurts at the time.

Katie

 

It’s Not a Tumor

And if you are anything like my husband, you said that like Arnold Schwarzenegger.  He’s said that to me so many times over the years….and it is pretty funny, but brings to light a problem many people have after going through cancer.  Is it a tumor?  Is the cancer back?

I’ve had countless health scares over the last decade.  I’ve had all cancers, and many other diseases based on my own self diagnosis and a little help from WebMD.  Every little thing is a symptom to something horrible.

You really think that after you are done with treatment and given a clean bill of health, that life will be just dandy.  Hair grows back, appetite returns, you have free time again, and life is great.  Except….you are now in another part of the cancer treatment journey….the real recovery.  Life is no longer normal.  You’ve gone through something that has completely changed your life and how you view life.  You find yourself grateful to be alive, scared to die, guilty that others didn’t make it, paranoid about disease return, anxious about everything.

Most recently, I started experiencing migraines.  They got worse over the summer, and instead of being rational and realizing they were most likely migraines….I went to brain tumor.  To the point that I was already planning the videos and letters  I would create to leave my girls.  I finally got in to the doctor and actually voiced those concerns.  Being the rational thinker she is, she suggested we actually treat for the migraines first….since all the symptoms pointed to migraines.  Not tumors.  I was reluctant to let this much time pass….but agreed.  And guess what?  Yeah…migraines.  Still unsure why or what is triggering them, but just migraines.  And it is sometimes funny to think that people jump to such extreme conclusions….but it’s also a reality we face.  We are programmed to be aware of every little thing, especially during treatment, in case it’s a symptom of something more serious.  We are told all the side affects of our treatments, given stats on our mortality, and after all is over, sent on our merry ways.  But life isn’t just back to normal after you get your “done with chemo” certificate.  You are facing a new reality, and sometimes it’s really difficult.

I’ve always thought that I must have gone through all of this, and continue to go through it, for a reason.  Maybe the biggest reason is to show other people they aren’t alone.  In all their crazy, anxiety, depression, guilt, fear, and worry.  You are not the only person to experience it….and I’m one of many that are always willing to go through it with you.

Now I’m sure that most of my little medical issues are not tumors, or cancer returning, but I don’t think I’ll ever stop wondering.  And maybe I am a little bit crazy…..but I’ve always been a little bit crazy!  And next time I have a cold and complain to my husband, I’m fully prepared to hear him say…..

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Katie 🙂

 

Thankful

This Thanksgiving I’m truly thankful for so much. So many things were uncertain in my life and I can look back now and appreciate what I’ve been through. My life is so blessed, I have a wonderful and supportive husband, beautiful miracle daughters, amazing family and friends, and opportunities I could have only dreamed of.

I’m not a person who needs much to be happy. I’ve achieved so much more in life than I ever thought. Mostly, I’m here. Surrounded by people I love and who love me.

Happy Thanksgiving!! Enjoy time with those you love, it is everything in life!

Katie ❤️😊