Thursday, August 11, 2016

Survivor Guilt


Wow, I haven't written in what....almost 2 years?! Whoops! Life got crazy and then I guess I kind of tried to move on from this chapter of my life. I think I've subconsciously tried to break away from cancer, compartmentalize it maybe. But I've been learning that I'll never really "move on" from the cancer chapter. I'm kind of stuck with it forever. Between my bi-annual check-ups and all the friends I have that are constantly in and out of treatment, cancer is in my life to stay.

Luckily, MY bill of health is clean as a whistle. However, I have SO many friends now that are not as lucky as me. This has been a huge struggle for me this whole year. It's something that the cancer community calls "survivor guilt". It seems so unfair that I am healthy, strong, happy, running hundreds of miles and climbing all the mountains while my friends continue on through treatment, get told they have only months to live, struggle through two years of weekly treatment.... My friend's adorable 7 year old daughter was just diagnosed with cancer on Monday...these things all SUCK so much. SO MUCH SUCK. It just isn't fair you know?

I've been reading Brene Brown's Rising Strong. She is an incredible researcher in the field of vulnerability, shame, and being your most authentic self. One of the lines from her book particularly stood out to me the other day, "We run from grief because loss scares us, yet our hearts reach toward grief because the broken parts want to mend." We can't run from grief. Eventually it catches up and manifests itself in depression, anxiety, PTSD, stress, feelings of unworthiness, etc. This is the "rumbling" I've been working through for months. After visiting my sweet 7 year old friend in the hospital today, I sat down in my car and just wept. I cursed cancer and cried and cried. I've been learning to accept grief- and to allow myself to feel it. Because I have so many cancer friends, I lose a lot of friends every year. Those losses build up until I break down and finally let the sadness happen.

"You can't selectively numb emotion--when you numb pain, you numb happiness and joy." And so we learn eventually to accept pain. To use it, to relish in it, to come out stronger on the other side. "Only when we know our own darkness well can we be present with the darkness of others." As I've been rumbling through my dark places this year, accepting emotional pain and sadness, I feel that I've become a much more compassionate person. And no, nothing that we experience in life is really fair. It's not fair that I'm healthy and so many other sweet people aren't.

I saw a video on the interweb today that told a really wonderful parable.
On the first day of class a professor held up a twenty dollar bill. He asked who in the class wanted it. All 200 students raised their hand of course. He then folded the bill in half twice. "Who wants this still?" he asked. Again, all 200 students raised their hands. He took the bill and crumpled it up. "Who wants it?" 200 hands in the air. He threw the bill on the ground, stomped on it, rubbed dirt on it, and picked it up. "Who still wants this?" Of course all 200 students still raised their hands. Because no matter what happened to that twenty dollar bill, it was still worth $20. We are the same. No matter what we are dragged through, no matter what happens to us, we will always hold our value. (Motivational speaker Jay Shetty)
I loved the way that concept was demonstrated. The whole survivor's guilt and stuff I've been feeling throughout this year has worn down on my feelings of worthiness. We all get down in the dumps about ourselves for one reason or another, and this story is a beautiful reminder to me.

Why am I sharing all this?? I'm not 100% sure. I think that writing things down is the best way for me to understand and recognize what I'm feeling. It is a coping process. I am in love with vulnerability. I feel much more real and alive when I am open. I think it's a good reminder to me that everyone has deep internal struggles that they are dealing with every single day. We have to be willing to feel our own darkness so we can be compassionate and kind to others. How would we treat others if we assumed that everyone we interact with is doing the best they can?

One more quote from Brene Brown to end with today :)
When we deny our stories and disengage from tough emotions, they don't go away; instead, they own us, they define us. Our job is not to deny the story, but to defy the ending--to rise strong, recognize our story and rumble with the truth until we get to a place where we think, Yes. This is what happened. This is my truth. And I will choose how this story ends. 

Love with your whole heart, even though there is no guarantee.

 I guess I will always be Kalina the cancer survivor, but I can still be Kalina the ultra-runner, Kalina the crazy girl that wears dresses on mountains, Kalina the chocolate eater, Kalina. Me.

PS I HAVE AN EXCITING ANNOUNCEMENT!!!! I graduated from the Diagnostic Medical Sonography program on August 4th and was just offered and accepted a full-time position with the University of Utah Hospital!!!!! EEK!

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

I Am Lovely

I've debated sharing this for a really long time....but I think it's time.

I love the lyrics in this song-- I feel lovely just the way that I am

In a way, this post is a love letter to myself. A lot of people might think I have the best self-esteem in the world. I mean, I have everything going for me so of course I think I'm great, right? Not always so. I've battled body image issues since high school. At times it has been worse than others. Particularly my last two years of college. I was married and a highly competitive college athlete (which alone spells disaster for body image problems). I got really sick for a while and dropped a ton of weight. Then it went to my head. I loved it. And then since I was working out so much and so hard, the weight stayed off even when I got better and started eating gluten free. Also, I think subconsciously I knew I wasn't as happily married as I thought I was. Obviously I didn't see it at the time. But as time wore on, the view I had of myself became more and more warped. I was freaking out when I started to gain weight my senior year of college (Spring 2012). Then I was diagnosed with cancer. They removed 3 huge tumors and I was in the hospital for 9 days not eating anything because I was so sick. I dropped all that weight again. It was great. Then I found out about my husband's infidelity. Now I am NOT blaming him for my eating disorder or my body image problems. To his credit he tried to do all he could to make me like my body. However, hating myself and my body became the way I dealt with the problems and stress in my life. I was happy in every other way. I was dealing with cancer and treatment and making the most of life. I was working through marital problems best I could. But my body became the thing I took out my stress and anger on. It got to the point that I couldn't think about anything else except how fat my legs were and how skinny every other girl's legs looked. I let it consume me. I tried everything I could to be anorexic (now I say try because 1. I love food 2. I love to run 3. You can't run well on no food and 4. I have very little willpower). I tried everything I could to be bulimic. [Un]Fortunately, I guess I have been blessed with a gag reflex of steel because not a thing in the world could make me throw up (except being in the hospital for 9 days).

I hated myself. Literally. It was terrible. Finally, I broke away from the unhappy situation I was in. I moved home. I was surrounded by people who loved me. I didn't have to deal with anything. I had a broken heart and time on my hands. My family embraced me. I did things with them. I did things with my girlfriends. And most importantly I went to cancer camp. I had friends who loved me more than I've ever had a friend love me. They loved me because of my smile, my happy attitude, my love for life and adventure. And suddenly my body wasn't me. I was me. My character was me. It didn't matter what I looked like or where I came from.
It's still taken time, I still would love to have skinnier legs (and no, no matter what you tell me, your words cannot change my perception of myself). See that's the problem with having a body image disorder, it doesn't matter what people think or say to you. Every person in the world could have told me I was the prettiest, skinniest girl they knew and it wouldn't have changed my view of myself. It's hard because when I felt that way, I wanted everyone to look at me and think "wow, she's so skinny" and yet I wouldn't believe it if someone told me. Or if I did hear it, I would force myself to fulfill that expectation and it would just perpetuate a vicious cycle. I had someone tell me "wow, you've really gained a lot of weight haven't you?" It just about killed me. I knew they meant that I didn't look sick from chemo anymore. But my brain heard those words as "you are a huge fat whale. FAT FAT FAT".

In our world today, hearing about one's body is inevitable. It's nice to hear someone say you have a nice body or nice legs or you are pretty or whatever. Everyone likes those compliments. No one likes "you've put on some weight, you're looking good" no matter how kind the intent is behind it. Well I bet some people do like that actually. I don't. At all.

I don't know exactly what has happened that has helped me love myself. I think a lot of has to do with getting out of a destructive and loveless relationship.(Like I said before, it wasn't his fault. My own problems were just exacerbated by the problems in my life). A lot of it is that I'm not competing as a college athlete in a situation where my body is everything; where you constantly compare yourself to every girl that is faster and come to the conclusion that if you were just a few pounds skinner you'd be able to shave an extra 10 seconds off your mile. A lot of it is that I have learned to be independent again. I'm not relying on someone else to make me happy. You can never rely on someone else to provide for your happiness. Especially in a marriage relationship. You HAVE to be happy all by yourself before you can be happy with someone else. A spouse should add to your happiness. Not create it.

For whatever reason, for the first time in my life, what other people think of me doesn't affect how happy I am. This is why we have trials. This is why you hear cliche phrases like "trials are blessings in disguise", "what doesn't kill you makes you stronger" and "God gives us trials in order for us to become more like Him". Everyone has to learn to stand on their own feet no matter how many times the storm knocks you down. That's why every person's storm is different. We each have to go through the storm that will teach us the lessons we personally need to learn and that we couldn't learn any other way.

What inspired me to finally admit and talk about my struggle? I looked in my swimsuit drawer today and saw my old bikinis (yep, sorry I am very immodest. Judge away). When I had surgery I thought I would never wear them again. When I had my second surgery I KNEW I would never wear them again. My stomach was hideous. It was lumpy and misshapen with a weirdo belly button and a huge nasty scar. But today I looked at those skimpy pieces of clothing in my drawer and I pulled them out. I tried them on. I looked in the mirror. And I didn't hate what I saw. I didn't see a nasty hideous stomach. I still saw just me. Just little old me who is the same no matter what I'm wearing. (Of course time has smoothed out my weird lumps and bumps and my belly button has gotten a little more normal so that helps :) haha). Just to try and give you an idea of the extent of how much I hated my scar and my stomach, I have to admit that I chewed out my surgeon for making me so ugly. Like literally. I told him, "you did a terrible job on my scar. Why couldn't you have made me less bumpy with a prettier belly button. I need plastic surgery to fix it". He replied "well that wasn't very nice" and immediately I felt like the meanest most horrible person in the world. Because I had been planning that retort for months. And I thought for sure I'd be getting plastic surgery. Can you believe how vain I am?

I never ever thought in a million years I would let people look at my stomach. Remember this first picture from my first surgery? It was a battle scar I was proud of. Now, more than a year later I am ready to show off my second battle scar. Because this scar is proof that I survived something crazy. This picture is proof to myself that I am okay.


So, Self: You are awesome. Your life is great. Your Father in Heaven LOVES you. He's given you so many trials because He knows that you can be great and He wants to help you get there.
I know this is the exact same quote as the cat/lion one, but this picture is so dang adorable!

A few people I've gained inspiration from:
This article:
Lindsey Stirling: this interview in particular. Also watch her "I'm a Mormon" video on the sidebar of the article
Andrea Bolles: she gave a short talk in relief society one night about overcoming an eating disorder and now she's started this cool blog, Creating a Life I Love
And a few others I won't mention because I think I might embarrass people.

Oh holy crap, I just realized.....Today, January 7 is exactly ONE YEAR since my LAST CHEMOTHERAPY treatment!!!! Oh my gosh that is the craziest thing ever!!! HAPPY CHEMOVERSARY TO ME!!!!!!!

Note: I've been very hesitant about sharing this very personal struggle of mine, in part because I don't want people to comment things like "Oh Kalina you are so beautiful and skinny, I wish I could be you" or whatever silly something someone might say. I don't want my family to make comments to me about my body. Any of my family. But I know I'm not the only one who has struggled with body image. I think every girl to some degree deals with it every day. I think admitting this so publicly is a huge step in overcoming it. At times when I am really struggling I want to be able to look back and be able to read this and remind myself that it is possible to not be consumed by the desire to be thin.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Can It Be the "End"?

Today is supposedly my LAST AVASTIN TREATMENT!!!!! I say supposedly because after a year of doing it, for some reason it doesn't feel like it's really going to be the end. I don't think it will really feel over until after my PET scan in January. But this is such a great Christmas present!!! Even though Avastin doesn't have the extreme side effects as a full chemo drug, after a year+ of it, the small side effects start to wear on you. I will miss coming to the infusion center because I like meeting and talking to other cancer patients. I love bringing treats to share and I love making people smile during one of the most miserable times in their lives. I hope I make the time to come back to visit as a volunteer.
I got another certificate of completion and a penguin blanket. It's official and real!!
Pictures of: My first day of chemo, my most pathetic looking self, my last day of chemo, and my last day of treatment!

I am actually really going to miss my port! I won't get it out until after my scan, but little Gouda has come to be a part of me. I don't even remember I have him most of the time. But its a great conversation killer :) If I ever want to make someone feel awkward, all I have to do it make them ask "what is that?" "Oh, its just my port. I had cancer" .....silence.....awkward stammering.....mention of how they know someone who went through cancer......silence.....change of subject. Hahaha. Am I evil that I think this recurring conversation is great? Probably.

I was thinking about life the other day. I have a passion for it. A passion for life I mean. I love living. I LOVE adventures. I love the unknown. I love change. Have I always been this way? Did I have the same passion for life before cancer and divorce? As I pondered these questions, I concluded that, yes, I have always had a passion for life. However, I have not always been as expressive or true to myself as I am now. Going through the fire and brimstone the past two years have brought me has strengthened my sense of self and lowered how much I care what other people think of me. I am not afraid to be myself anymore because I don't care if people think I'm weird or not cool. Because I am weird sometimes! Weird and crazy and funny and reserved and adventurous and silly.
Case in point. I found a wand. An icicle to some. A wand to me. 
Go, live your dream! Beeeeeee yourself! Let it go, don't hold back anymore.

Just a few tidbits of Disney advice :) (Tangled, Aladdin, Frozen) If you haven't seen Frozen yet, SEE IT NOW. It was soooooo good. I liked it almost as much, maybe even equal to Tangled. And you all know how much I love Tangled. The music was amazing. The princesses were beautiful and spunky. And the "prince charming" was actually a man you'd want your daughter to marry. I loved the message of the song "Let it Go". All her life Elsa has been holding herself back, forcing herself not to feel--hiding her emotions. I feel like I've done a lot of that in my life. I think most people have. But holding back and suppressing herself like she has done her whole life only leads to trouble. It's only when she finally lets go that things work out and she is finally happy. So let go! Be yourself. 

Another way to say it is YOLO! This is the motto of the new generation--You Only Live Once. While it is silly and trendy, it's true. You do only live once. So enjoy it! I have a severe case of wanderlust: strong longing or impulse toward wandering and/or travel. I finally am at a point in my life that I can do the things I want. I loved being an athlete at UVU, but it was quite a commitment. Now I am committed to nothing and to nobody. It's great. I love being in charge of myself. I am still planning on traveling to Thailand for at least a month or two or maybe three or four. Or if my friend commits to it, we will backpack southeast Asia together for 5 weeks. Either way, it is going to be quite the adventure!

To end, here is a good article that kind of describes what it's like to be a "cancer person". Maybe it will give people a little insight into what it's like.

You never know what you are capable of until you try

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Wanna Know a Secret?

Wanna know a secret? Life rocks. Like really rocks. I love my life. I loved summer. I love fall. I love traveling. I love crafts and running and being outside and the mountains and my dog and my friends and my family.
Frolicking. I love crunching leaves.
I've been busy living the past couple months which is why its been over two months since I last posted! I mean with Instagram and Facebook these days most people have a day to day update of my life. But those social media platforms are not the place for sharing feelings and in depth details so, for my future posterity's sake, I am going to update this public journal of mine (because yes I do believe my children will read my blog someday and see how awesome and amazing and fun I am....hahahaha. Insert funny meme here).
Rainbows are one of my favorite things in this world. Last summer I was having a REALLY hard day. I prayed for help and strength and courage and peace and when I looked up there was one of the brightest rainbows I've ever seen. And the most peaceful, warm feeling enveloped me like a hug and since then rainbows have been very special in my life. This particular rainbow is from hiking King's Peak in September/
Summer was amazing. I worked a lot but I also played a lot. I got really into rock climbing. I LOVE to boulder. I even am getting kind of good at it! I mean for a beginner anyway. I got to hike King's Peak, the highest peak in Utah which was super awesome!!! It was so much fun and I realized that I love backpacking. A lot. I also realized that all the outdoor things I love to do are extremely expensive because you have to get all sorts of gear and such! How lame. I am still working at Zion's as a teller which even though it sounds like a lame dumb job is really fun. I get to meet and talk to all sorts of crazy and interesting people. I love it. I love the sweet elderly people that come in and want to stay and talk to me forever because they are probably lonely and going to the bank is their social interaction for the day.

I recently got back from a five day trip to New York. First of all, I am a mountain girl. I would die without them. But there is something about New York City that I absolutely love. I could definitely live there and be a real city girl. For like a year probably. It's my favorite favorite big city. But I actually spent most of the time in upstate New York in the teeny tiny town of Chestertown. It was SO incredibly beautiful I can't even describe. Every single time my eyes were open my breath was taken away at the beauty of my surroundings. Like dang, Heavenly Father is the most incredible artist there has ever been. Obviously. But still. It amazes me. I was a bridesmaid in a long-time (since middle school) friend's wedding. It was so fun! I got to wear a super cute dress and walk down the aisle and see her and meet a ton of new friends and cool people. 
Forgive me, its a selfie while I was running.

Is it ridiculous that I feel extremely overwhelmed and sad that there are so many amazing and cool people in this world that I will never get to meet? I met lots of awesome people and friends at the wedding that I would have never met without it and I realized that there are so many incredible people that I'd love to meet and might not ever get to! That's why I might have to become a hippie bum traveler. A new age nomad. "Hold me fast cuz I'm a hopeless wanderer" [lyrics from one of my favorite bands, Mumford & Sons]

I felt like a real grown-up traveling all by myself. Especially on the last day when I got to wander NYC alone. I went to my favorite gluten-free bakery, my favorite dessert place, ate lunch in central park, and of course wandered aimlessly around times square area....checking out cheap clothes. And of course I spent a while in a bookstore. Sorry for my Facebook friends that have already seen all these pictures....but I had to put them on the blog too!

Cancer......its a funny thing. People ask me all the time, " it gone now? Like, are you good?" Well, I mean, yes, there is no evidence of cancer in my body but is cancer really ever gone? I don't feel that I can just walk around saying, "I don't have cancer" because I think I'll always "have" it. Cancer isn't something that just goes away. Maybe the dumb little cells that multiply and destroy the insides of your body will stop growing, but the side effects and the doctors visits and the small voice of worry that you pretend isn't there never go away. Especially since I'm still finishing up my maintenance/preventative drug Avastin, I don't feel like I'm done with the whole cancer thing. I still go to the hospital every three weeks. I still sit there for at least an hour, hooked up to an IV tower. I still see my doctors. I still have cancer friends. My mom is trying to get me into a clinical trial that is working on developing a vaccine-like treatment. I would travel to either Dallas, TX or Buffalo, NY once a month to get the drug. So is my cancer gone? No. It's not. It never will be. It will always be a part of me. There's a lot of long-term side effects to chemo that nobody thinks about. Being done with chemotherapy doesn't mean everything is happy daisies and rainbows and you are a normal healthy person all the sudden. Fortunately for me, I am very healthy and happy and have very minimal lasting side effects. Some of my friends aren't so lucky. It's just something we cancer people deal with that others don't understand. I think that's my point of this rambling--to maybe help others understand that cancer isn't like a broken bone. It's not something that heals and then goes away and is something you remember when trying to think of a good story to tell. Maybe in twenty years I'll feel differently, who knows?

Banana man....this is my friend Dov that I've mentioned a few times here on the blog. He is the ultimate example of bravery, courage and humor when it comes to dealing with life, and cancer in particular. Talk about never ending, he's been in treatment for six years. This is his way of dealing with it. Not only does it help lighten things up for him, it really inspires and helps other people. He gets nervous on scan days so naturally dressing up as a sexy banana makes it easier to handle :)

I only have three treatments left though! My last treatment is scheduled for December 10th :) And sometime after that I will get my port taken out! I think I might miss my little Gouda buddy. I've gotten so used to having it now that its going to be sad to take it out. I mean like just a little sad. 

So the next thing on my bucket list that I'd like to do is fly to the cheapest destination that is offered for the weekend. Just randomly pick up and go. My next weekend off I'm going to do it. Not sure how you search for "cheapest airline ticket right this second" but I'm going to figure it out. Even if I end up somewhere random like the middle of Kansas. Won't that be fun! 

I found this song on Pandora a while ago and fell in love! One day I wanted to listen to it, so naturally I searched for it on Youtube. Turns out its the cutest Youtube video in world history and now I'm even more in love! I had to share. If at least only for my Camp friends to enjoy :)

Also, this quote from general conference gave me real hope in the boys of this world. Love like this must exist somewhere. Can you imagine a love like this?
I about cried.

I realized as I've been working and meeting lots of people that there are quite a few angry people in this world. I think I have a lot of legitimate reasons to be a pretty angry person. But honestly, I can't remember the last time I was truly angry. Annoyed yes. Bugged yes. Indignant once. But like blow up-yelling-wanting-to-punch-something angry? Nah. Not my style. I have a forgiving disposition. And man is my life so much the better for it. It's a lifestyle I think more people should adopt. To the lady that got F-word-in-my-face angry at me at the bank for miscounting her money....I'm really really sorry. It was an accident. I'm not a money counting robot. If only you knew what has gone on behind my fohawk and name tag. And if only I knew what you were going through. Then maybe we'd have more compassion and kindness to each other.

I think that if I could have one sentence said about me on my headstone it'd be that because of me, someone didn't give up. I hope that I can be a tool in God's hands to inspire others. Even just a tiny bit. Even just one person. Then everything I've been though, the cancer, and the getting un=married thing, then it would be worth it. Actually, I think it already has been worth it. I understand life and God's plan and feel His love more than I ever could have without my experiences.
How true that has been.

I'm so glad I live in a world where there are Octobers.
Loon Lake, New York
Salt Lake City, UT

Lastly, (for now), I learned how to use a chainsaw and an axe recently! I'm not very good with an axe so I'm crossing axe murderer off my list of possible career choices, but I was quite decent with a chainsaw so chainsaw massacre-ist is still in the running. If only I had a picture of these monumentous events of my life.

Till next time, au revoir. Peace love and happiness. 

I dare you to do something brave today.