Cancer kinda sucks. Everything is harder than it was in the beginning and some of it has to do with external stuff but what’s going on inside of me isn’t helping at all. I’ve been caught in this pity party for a few days now and I figured the best way to get out of it was to stop being sad and to start being thankful. Which is harder than you’d think sometimes when your head is all over the place. You know what people with cancer think about all of the time? Cancer. There’s so much more to it than you could ever imagine. So far the only thing curing my body is also destroying it. That takes a toll on the old emotions. But I don’t want to just sit around watching life happening during this chapter of my life and I have to continue to take part in it all. When you’re told you’re suffering from a disease that can kill you and will impact the rest of your life, you sorta realize how short and unpredictable life really is. I’m trying to take in all the lessons that cancer has to offer me. Lessons in growing up, taking care of myself, letting go of the things that hurt me.. One of the big lessons is constantly finding the good in the bad, no matter how much you don’t want to. To be perfectly honest I have no interest in this blog right now, it seems too hard of a task to tackle. But I know it’s going to be good for me. So I’m going to do it in chunks. Consider this part one of four of the top 100 list I never thought I’d make you and you probably never thought you’d read. No matter how small or silly some might seem, I'm thankful for them all.
100 reasons why I’m thankful I was diagnosed with cancer:
1. My already close family became even closer. My parents moved back from Arizona and my sister and brother-in law have been ready with whatever they can to help. I cannot tell you how much it means to have my parents back here. When I think of all of the times I’ve cried in their arms or had someone to sleep next to, I feel so blessed. Feeling cared for is a big source of strength.
2. Meeting and developing a relationship with the Skinner family. They have opened their house and hearts to us and have showered my family with a love that will never be forgotten. Honey is someone who will change your life for the better whether you want her to or not. I have found forever friends at house #11.
3. The new friends I’ve made that are associated with all things Wirtz. I don’t know what it is but there’s something about working there that means you’re also going to be a special person. Such generous and accepting people that I’m just happy to be around whenever I am. Especially those Conklin kids!
4. Seeing the strength and love of so many of my friends and family. The outpour of support has been amazing and it’s really neat to see how good most people truly are. So many have been able to drop anything without hesistation to be there for me and I swear you guys when I am able to again I will do the same for you. You think you know people really well and then something you both counted on changes and you find out who they really are. For the most part, I am blown away by what I’m finding out.
5. Exposure to alternative treatments. I’ve burned special plants in different corners of my house, I’ve been poked with needles that aren’t attached to medicine, I’ve learned about the energy everything on Earth has and how to keep it flowing, I’ve had healing hands on me.. I’ll try anything to beat this. Learning about the different beliefs and cultures associate with all kinds of healing has been really enjoyable. The most important lesson they have taught me though is the art of slowing down. Being slow and present is something I am learning to be comfortable with.
6. Connecting with the Blackhawks. This has been one of the coolest opportunities that having cancer has brought me. I always thought they boys in red were so far out of reach but I’ve had the pleasure of interacting with them enough now for Mr. Patrick Sharp to pick me out of a sea of fans. Patrick Sharp knows I exist now. That made me remember what it was like to be 14 again and have your hunky crush say hi to you in the hallway. My face went bright red I giggled like an idiot. He probably didn't notice though... My mom thinks it’s only because he hasn’t met many bald girls but hey who cares. Even if that is it, it’s a perfectly good example of why I’m thankful cancer happened. I’m memorable!
7. Learning to speak up for myself. No more letter everyone else run the Kayla show. Being able to vocalize what’s important for me is a huge growth on my part. I have realized I have to make myself a priority as well as what is good for me. “Growing a pair” is a process but it’s happening.
8. Having Trifecta Grill (the number one restaurant up north) throw me a birthday party. And as if that wasn’t good enough I saw my mom put away 6 gourmet tots that night. The O’Neil family has been such a wonderful addition to my life and still would be even if their perfect restaurants didn’t exist.
9. Appreciating things I took for granted. I never knew how much I loved French fries until I couldn’t have them whenever I wanted. I didn’t think about how much I loved open water until I was told I had to stay out of it. Even my health and feeling good every day, I appreciate the good days so much more than I ever did. I pray that this lesson is one that stays with me and that I always appreciate the things and the people that I love. Being happy is a choice but it is also a gift and it starts with being thankful.
10. Lazy days. I have had the pleasure of finding out why America loves the Kardashian family, the importance of naps, and being ok with a walking as my only productive move of the day. I’ve gotten to color more than I have since grade school and read a variety of books. This goes with learning to slow down, lazy days are something I usually feel pretty guilty about but when they’re forced on you, you have to learn to be ok with them. I don’t think I’ve ever had the pleasure of experiencing the “lazy days of summer” before now.
11. Healthier habits. They also have been forced on me but definitely for the better. I don’t need to have dessert every day, I don’t need to stay up late and fall behind on sleep, and I don’t need to drink every drop of Jager in sight. This has been the kick in the butt I need to grow up and really take care of myself. But don’t think for one minute when all of this is over there won’t be a killer party to celebrate. Because with Christina Klinge in charge of it you know there will be.
12. Walks around Indian Hill’s golf course. With limited energy comes limited exercise. I miss moving at a million miles per hour however I please but there has been something lovely about taking walks. I still get to see and explore, probably more than before actually when you consider the speed I'm moving. Living here with my parents has been huge in so many ways but one of my favorite is the beautiful neighborhood we have to walk around. It’s so peaceful and pretty and since it’s a set path there are plenty of little goal marks to reach on the days when I don’t wanna get out of bed so I can still feel accomplished. My favorite memories this summer have been the walks I’ve taken with friends here, talking about everything and nothing and just being happy to be outside moving in good company. The conversations and time spent walking have been quite special to me.
13. My car. It’s no secret how much I love my car so it might be hard to believe that I am more thankful than ever for it but it’s true. After a week of getting carted around and having everything done for me, it feels SO GOOD the first time I get to drive myself somewhere. The freedom and independence you get from having a vehicle is great. A drive in the mouse is something I always find myself looking forward to being up for.
14. Learning how to wear make up. I went to a “look good, feel better” class because I heard you get a couple hundred dollars worth of free make up while learning how to put it on. I never thought that I would become someone that others ask make up tips from or to do their make up for them but here we are. I am not only a mascara only girl and that’s kind of a fun thing! I was introduced to make up by Robin Robeson, a local make up artist and now a friend for life. She has given me the gift of eyeliner and confidence to feel pretty even when I don’t.
15. Growing closer with my cousin Mandy. Mandy is a few years old than me and we grew up on opposite sides of the country, so growing up I didn’t spend much time with her. Mandy was published in her first medical journal as a senior in high school and is one of those brilliant should be freaks but is actually 100% normal. From early on Mandy said she was going to cure cancer and everyone knows she will. Having her on my team along with her staff at Dana Farber and University of Chicago has given my family full confidence in my doctor’s plans. Knowing I’m getting the best possible care and treatment is something my family and I have found enormous peace in.
16. Impulse control. Through this I have had to learn to plan more and act impulsively less. I have to think through my actions and choices before I make them and consider whether or not they are actually good for me. I miss being careless and making bad decisions but it's been a good lesson in growing up and making better choices/being more responsible. Also to say I don't make bad decisions still would be a lie, they are hopefully just less frequent now. Thinking before acting.
17. Experiencing old favorites like it was the first time all over again. For example, kayaking. No one loves kayaking more than I do so to be told no oceans or lakes was a huge letdown. But with a little rule breaking I kayaked in the pacific a week ago and in Lake Michigan a couple days ago. Water is magic. It seduces you, a "quick kayak" so easily turns into however far I can go before my arms fall off every time. The only things that hurt more than my arms were my cheeks :) I appreciate things I don't get to do often so much more now.
18. Strangers reaching out. I've been able to see how neat people truly are. The encouragement I've received from people I pass on the street about how I'm rocking the bald to friends of friends pulling more than their weight in this fight has kept my head up. I got a picture today from a friend who has a friend leaving for college for the first time. Clipped to her backpack was a little flag with my name on it and the caption was "college bound and fearless". I got out of bed after seeing that and decided today was another day that we win.
19. The Walking Dead. With all this lounge time on my hands I got hooked on a tv show for the first time in a long time. I forgot how fun that is! My dad and I have been watching it together and we are HOOKED. He’s even been slowly walking and moaning around the house trying to bite us. I’m happy I’ve had the time to enjoy something like this.
20. Meeting Ellen. My chemo nurse is an angel. She is funny and kind and I know she really cares about me and my family. I look forward to seeing her on Thursdays and I'm always excited to introduce her to my visitors. Can you stay friends with your nurses? I hope that's allowed, she's had such a big hand in this.
21. Naturespace. Naturespace is an app that was created by the father of one of my students. He recommended it to me to try as a therapy of some kind. It contains tracks of different sounds found in nature and is a great way to escape for awhile. Pretty much any setting you can imagine is on it so wherever you want to disappear to you can. Check it out.
22. Being cared for. Letting others take care of me really puts me outside of my comfort zone but it’s necessary now. There’s been lots of growing happening this summer. I’m learning to ask for help and being able to accept it.
23. Relationships circling back around. Friends I have been out of contact with for whatever reason have had no problem reaching out during this and are ready to help. I’m so thankful for the boost this has given old or distanced relationships. It’s nice to know how easily people can put things behind them or get past the time since we last saw each other to help out. If you’re reading this and it applies to you THANK YOU! I’M SO HAPPY YOU’RE ACTIVE IN MY LIFE AGAIN.
24. Justin Bieber. He might be a little pipsqueak with a big attitude, but his face is on a blanket that has kept me warm and snuggly every hospital visit. He’s the only face other than mine that has attended every chemo sesh. It’s a conversation piece and usually gets a good laugh out of people who come in my room and I’d rather have laughing than crying there.
25. My shiny head. After years of saying I’ll shave my head if I make the Olympics or hearing from my grandfather as a kid what a good shaped skull I had, I finally got to do it and see for myself. I was warned it would be terrible but it wasn’t too bad actually and now I don’t even notice it or remember I’m bald half the time. I’m thankful to all the people who made life without the fro an easy transition. Here’s to hoping the curls return…