"Sometimes it feels like there are so many things we can't control, earthquakes, floods, reality shows. But it's important to remember the things we can, like forgiveness, second chances, fresh starts. Because the one thing that turns the world from a lonely place to a beautiful place, is love. Love in any of its forms. Love gives us hope, hope for the New Year. That's New Year's Eve to me. Hope, and a great party."
I just watched NYE, judge me all you want (erin carlberg). When the movie hit it's big moment though some of the words hit home. I sort of feel like a new year is upon me. I have one more week of life as I knew it before I take off on a new adventure. Packing up and preparing for this has left me reflecting on everything that has happened in the past year+. Going through old papers with my treatment schedule on them makes me sick to my stomach. Looking through pictures of my shiny head and lack of eyelashes is weird. The farther I find myself removed from all of that the more I realize just how sick I was and how hard I was. But my reflection there is brief. Mostly when I think back on the past year I think of people. A year ago when I was hurting I started my list of 100 reasons why I was happy cancer happened. I only made it to 50. I swear we brainstormed well over 100 though, I just let it slip away. Here are another 25 off the top of my fingertips. 25 memories and moments that cancer brought me and that leave me feeling thankful.
51. Getting all my hair cut off. It was one of the first "take control" moments I had post diagnosis. I cut my curls from mid back to just under my chin to transition to bald. I had it snipped by one of my childhood best friends who grew up to open her own salon with her mom. Check out Glimmer Salon in Woodridge, IL for the best of the best! It felt special getting to involve them in the process and made it a fun experience. I always knew hair was just hair, but I still really loved my long locks. My friend Joe came along for the cut too. I think maybe there was a promise of hot dogs that got him involved, but I also know that he understood that none of this was easy for me and wanted to be there for support. It was just one of many trips that Joe was a part of. He never left my side during my fight and hasn't to this day. Some people stepped up, some people stepped in, and some people stepped out. I am thankful for all of the directions people chose. It brought some beautiful people into my life, strengthened relationships I already had, and made room for new when some left. I appreciate how fun the Robertson gals made this for me and the way Joe and my mom chose to be a part of it all.
52. Talking Russian prisons with Christina and my surgical nurse. I was getting my port put in and Christina was my caretaker since my parents were packing up their house in Arizona and getting ready to move to Illinois. I had recently seen Russia's Toughest Prisons on Netflix and noticed my pre-op nurse had a heavy Russian accent. I had Christina on the verge of passing out from all the medical happenings and I was a little nervous about everything going on, so to lighten the mood we started talking prison. One of my favorite topics. Soon after Christina almost passed out from seeing a needle and I did pass out from being drugged. I was fortunate enough to have an unemployed best friend when the cancer show began. Christina was my party pal out in California, but grew to be my caretaker, my babysitter, my nacho maker, my hospital sleepover bud, and truly just my everything when she moved back to Chicago a year and a half ago. It still cracks me up that in the middle of prepping me for surgery she almost stole the show by passing out. Typical only child needing the spotlight :)
53. Champagne and cigars with Ditka. Since I'm on the topic of Christina, I can't forget to mention my first breakdown during the cancer jam. I was so sick and tired of being healthy and thoughtful. I just wanted to be a careless 24 year old again. Who do you call for a good time? Christina Marie. So we bought cigars and champagne and drank them on the rooftop, with the whole city of Chicago lit up before us, alongside Da Coach. Enough said.
54. Getting a pupperdoodle!! Miss Presley P became a part of our family last fall. I'm not sure that I would have been able to convince my parents to get a dog if it hadn't been for my bald noggin and sick face. They planned on not getting another one anytime soon after losing two in one year. But sure enough, our little poo wiggled into our lives and isn't going anywhere. She has brought us lots of laughs, snuggles, smiles, long walks, and missing socks.
55. COACH Q SIGNED MY HEAD
56. Walking the halls of my high school. There was an event at my high school for All Americans during a swim meet. It had been years since I had been at DGN and it was really nice to be back. I spent a lot of time trying to move past my roots. Going back to them I found a place of love and comfort. Lots of incredible people wanting to support me and my family. I had forgotten what a strong sense of community there is in Downers Grove. It was like I had never left. In a good way. I am so thankful to have grown up where I did, surrounded by the people I did. The Sims family, Bus, the Kaspers, Big Red, Big Webs, Expressers, my Trojan fam, Scooby's!... I am thankful for you all.
57. A special heart to heart that I hardly remember that happened when I was drugged out of my mind in the hospital. Anna Galas was spending the night with me my first night I had to stay over. I can't recall what topics of conversation were covered, but in my head they happened all night long and solved the many problems that occur in the lives of 20-somethings. Most likely, it did not. I choose to cling to the foggy memory of a night of chatting with one of my best friends, feeling safe and loved- like it was any other sleepover.
58. The many nights I woke up yaking, to be drugged up by one of my parents and force fed a bite or two of a rice cake. This might sound like a bad memory, but how often do we have the pleasure of falling asleep in our parents arms after a certain point in our lives? How often do our parents get to hold us in their arms and watch us sleep after a certain point in our lives? While none of us would choose to do it over again, there was something special about being cared for like a child again. And I suspect there was something special about getting to parent and care for me in a way I had not needed in years. Maybe they couldn't take away the sick or the pain but they sure did take away the fear, even if just for a moment. How lucky am I to have such a wonderful family?
59. Speaking of my wonderful family.. I took great pride in seeing my mother and sister cross the finish line in a 5k swim to raise money for cancer research. I had a lot of other friends complete this as well. What set these two apart from the crowd is they were the only two to finish in bikinis. #hotmom #hotfamily
60. Fort Lauderdale. I got to experience this city without being tied to a swim meet or training trip. I went about a week or two after my final chemo treatment as a way to relax but have some fun too before my surgery. I knew I would have fun in Florida but I was not expecting to have the best vacation of my life. Lisa, Wendy, and I laughed till we peed, drank margarita after margarita, and floated around the pool getting pruney and drinking champagne. Florida will always be a place where my heart finds peace and happiness because of this time. And I gained a forever friend out of it, mama Wendy :)
61. The Boobie Scarf from my doll Karrie Fisher
62. I have many fun memories from Theme-o but my favorite are the ones that involved other patients. I remember the first time we dressed up and gave no warning and we got some looks and a lot of smiles. There were a lot of people that popped into my hospital room that day to see if the rumors were true, if Spiderman really was getting pumped full of spidey juice. And there were lots of "so what do I wear next week?"s. We loved spreading smiles around Kellogg. I made a lot of friends that way and connected with other patients. Plus, I'm always happy to take pictures :)
63. My friend Snabes was happy to show support from Texas by shaving his head to match mine. He let me pick one of the cuts along the way and the old man it was! That would be shaved on the top and still there on the bottom, just like a balding old man. It was a good preview for whats to come. Hilarious. I happily took any smiles I could get and his move got a big Kayla smile!
64. Not working was a real blessing and I'm thankful to those who allowed that to happen. I got to travel a bit and take "breaks" from being sick. My favorite escape will always be California. I got to go out there twice during chemo. It was a great way to make my friends out west feel like they were a part of my fight too. I'm sure it was hard being far away through out most of this. I know it was hard for me! So my time with the ocean and family was especially healing. And no better place than the pond when you need a pick me up! Also, going to the pond when you're bald and sickly just might result in you rocking a Stanley Cup champ ring. HEYOO!
65. Piggy races the night before surgery! I had a sleepover with my best gal pals and gbf and we jumped on the beds, covered ourselves in whipped cream, and danced to Ja Rule. The Double Tree Old Orchard hooked us up with attaching rooms and warm cookies. Instead of having a night of freaking out before my surgery, I had a night of eating garbage and gabbing with my girls.
66. Running 5ks! I logged my first one the day after chemo #1. The first 5k- I walked it, cut most of the course, and still hit up the snack area post race. 5k numero dos- I ran most of it with some of my best buddies and fam. It was 3 days after one of my treatments. The Color Run was a fun way to do something physical when I felt like garbage. I only walked during one of the colors and I did a last minute sprint to the finish line to cross it first in my group. They might not have had any warning but a win is a win. Run 3 came post radiation, the same race that was my first 5k. I ran it with my whole school and finally ran the whole way. #progre55.
67. Christmas in July! After my first round of chemo was finished, Anna Peterson rounded up my friends and family and threw me a Christmas party. Her whole house was decorated in Christmas decorations, there was fake snow and glitter everywhere, and even holiday treats. Fellow NT swimmers came to show their support in the celebration. They were a huge part of my fight and became family. So many little things were done by these peeps that added up to a lot of big smiles. Never feeling alone is why I, we, got through this.
68. Corey Crawford and Crew rocking Kayla bracelets AND stopping fellow army members asking if they knew me too. Brittney and Corey are basically BFF because of these little pink bands my sister made.
69. All of the celebrations! I loved forcing all my friends and family together to celebrate even the simplest of occasions. I was desperate for fun. Having multiple pre-op parties made the whole ordeal feel more relaxed and made recovery easier because I had gotten some fun in before. Celebrating finishing everything was great too! I loved seeing everyone karaoke and dance together. One of my favorite things from this is how I'd start with a room full of strangers and everyone would be friends by the end. It gave me an easy way to spend time with all my friends too. It was hard to muster up energy to be social all the time so we made some 100 birds in one bush moments. Great to see old and new faces, love love LOVED dancing and laughing with you all!
70. The chemo parade! Forever in my memory is my last day of chemo. The theme was Blackhawks and my whole school was dressed head to toe in red. They limit visitors to 4 in the room during treatment and I had 20+. The day started with the news coming to film and Tommyhawk and bursting into my classroom with streamers and silly string. The Blackhawks sent a care package for my class and when it was time to go my kids walked with me all the way to the hospital. The whole school was lined up along side my route and "Chelsea Dagger" was bumping the whole walk. I cannot set foot on Sheridan Road still without getting choked up. The love of my friends and family, my doctors and nurses, and the whole community on the North Shore has been so present since before any of this started and hasn't left me yet. I loved the in hospital celebration but nothing can top sharing the joy of that day with 19 of my smallest but strongest supporters.
71. People put a mic in my hands. Now this might have proved to be foolish on their part but I have certainly enjoyed it. Cancer has given me a platform to talk. And boy do I love to talk (got that from my dad). I have really enjoyed the opportunities that have come up to share my story and hopefully help those who have fought before me, are fighting now, or unfortunately might be faced with cancer in the future. The way I see it, all of this happened for nothing, we worked so hard for nothing, if I can't share the journey and use it to help others. It's been fun to see my athletic background come into play by connecting with young female athletes and speaking at sporting events. Visiting universities and high schools has been a blast; I love meeting all these motivated athletes! I guess all of those laps served a purpose after all.
72. Every theme-o video and photo that Brooks sent me. I'll save him some embarrassment and refrain from posting them but holy wow. I can never unsee them and for that I am forever thankful.
73. I love all the moments that I wasn't a part of but were captured either in photos or video. They were all during situations that normally would have been hard to deal with but in all of them I see smiling faces. People give me a ton of credit for how I handled cancer and the positive attitude they saw. Truthfully, I was just following suit. How was I supposed to be depressed in the hospital when my mother was sucking down helium and making herself laugh so hard to the point of tears? And how can I look back on being in the hospital as a negative experience when I have a zillion pictures of me surrounded by friends? Or the staged food coma pictures that were taken of me when I was knocked out? Y'all hardly even gave me a chance to feel anything but happy!
74. Getting the phone call that my path results came back clear. I remember it was like almost two weeks after my double mastectomy that I got the results back. Hearing that I was completely clear of cancer was just as shocking as finding out I had it. I casually told my parents the news and they were elated and I didn't show much reaction. About a half hour later though I was in a ball in my laundry room sobbing my face off for the next two hours. I had become so accustomed to that life that I just assumed that's how it would always be. I never saw a life outside of cancer world. I recorded a super embarrassing video of it thinking I would mass send it out to share my news but never did. I had enough sense to realize how weird it kinda is. I still can't watch it without blubbering like a baby though because I remember it like it was an hour ago. It's kinda corny I guess but really authentic. And holy crap was did I look cancery! Hard to see yourself like that. And crazy to know that I was in fact no longer sick during this poorly filmed basement vidya.
75. All the times that me having cancer brought us all together. Because ultimately, it wasn't just me who had cancer to deal with. We all did. Maybe it's bad that it takes traumatic events like this to occur for us to gather close, but I can't help but be thankful that it did. The past 15 months have brought me more visitors, dinners, nights out, heart to hearts, late night strolls, trips, friends, reunions, you name it, than ever before in my life. I treasure every card I received, every visit you made, every flower that arrived, all of it. I will never forget the love that was shared with me and my family. I hope we all gained from this and were/are reminded of what's important.. our time together and our love for each other. So as I start a new adventure I hope you all realize that this is a memory I won't forget. Just like I won't forget any of you. You haven't just been friends to me; you are the reason I am here. And if nothing else fear not, I have a future full of procedures and a zillion doctor appointments so I'll be flying into ORD frequently. I can never go too far or be gone for too long with this medical history I now have. You can thank my genetic background for that!