Thursday, May 26, 2016


Most days, my brain is full of bouncy balls. My ideas are frequent, my thoughts are hard to keep up with and my body likes to mirror my mind, leaving me always on the go, running in one million directions at once. So when yoga became the thing to do with meditation at its core, I suddenly found myself avoiding the gym. Where peace was promised, I found torture. Asking me to slowly transition through poses with little movement while being silent in a dimly lit room is almost unrealistic. I like to talk. I like to move. I have a competitive nature that keeps me focused on being a better human-pretzel than the person next to me. And if you tell me to lie down and think of nothing, I'll think of everything. I have put my pillows on the floor and lit candles, saying  my “oms,” but never felt any “sense of being”. The peaceful, relaxing practice of mediation left me feeling anxious, unproductive and ultimately stressed out. In the age of mindfulness, I found myself on the outs. 

Meditation is defined as “thinking deeply or focusing one’s mind for a period of time, in silence or with the aid of chanting, for religious or spiritual purposes or as a method of relaxation.” It promises better brain function, improved sleep, stress reduction and a greater sense of appreciation for life, among various other physiological, psychological and spiritual benefits. But that definition paired with the traditional picture of meditation, left me feeling as though I would never be able reap the rewards of a meditative state. 

What I didn't realize though is I meditate daily, just in a different way. For me meditation has never been about sitting with my eyes closed, instead it has been spending time out in nature, hiking hills or paddling out into the ocean. When it's just me and my breath, with the slapping water against my board, that is when my mind clears out the clutter and my whole system relaxes. Some mornings, I do nothing but float there, my head an open bowl, absorbing the empty ocean around me, alert but relaxed. When I am on top of a hill, admiring the earth before me, I feel alert and am deeply focused on my present reality. 

Spending time in a mindful manner creates a sense of peace and brings light to truths in your life. In the muck of everyday living, our perceptions of situations can be clouded by all the noise around us. Being able to remove yourself from society, even just mentally, can provide clarity to your world. So many of the questions of the heart are answered in these moments. 

Like everything in life, training the mind to become focused and aware requires practice. Like the athlete training for a competition, it is important to incorporate mindful practice into your schedule. For the chaotic mind, chants or guided mediation might be exactly what you need. Focusing on a phrase that feels good to you or having an outside voice guide your thoughts is an effective way to relax and find peace. For the mentally disciplined, meditation might look like emptying your mind in a still silence. 

What’s important is to take the time to find out what mediation looks like to you. Perhaps you are like the Buddhist monks who sit in temples and are able to achieve a sense of being. Maybe the art of cooking allows for you to empty your head and focus fully on what is before you. Painting could be what provides you with the greatest sense of relaxation. Even listing the things you are grateful for while in the shower could be the best way you practice mindfulness. Experiment with different activities and be open to seeking a contentment in nontraditional ways. Keep your expectations low at first, five conscious minutes are better than none, and open your mind to the opportunities for relaxation and peace around you.

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Part 2: ...but sometimes you get exactly what you want!

appropriate reading tunes

You can't always get what you want, but sometimes you do. And we did! Awhile ago with each other and more recently with....

January 2016: Almost a year to the day they found solid masses in my ovaries, which sparked a series of scans, infertility heartbreak, and surgery.. I started experiencing pain in my ovaries, fatigue, withdrawal from usual enjoyment/activities, and feeling "off." I had blown off a pelvic ultrasound the week before in fear of what might be shown. I started to prepare to begin a new treatment which included a pregnancy test. In terms of starting cancer treatment, I failed the test. In terms of beautiful-miracle-magical-life-creation, I passed with a perfect score. The next day the hospital confirmed our miracle to be true, Jeff and I were 4 weeks pregnant.

It came as utter shock.  Stunned. They said it was impossible. They said it could never happen. Two friends sat in the appointment with the fertility specialist and heard the awful words "infertile from treatments" along with whatever explanation and everything else that blurred together. That was the biggest devastation of my life, I didn't eat or drink or sleep for days and grew incredibly weak from a broken heart. But he was wrong! HE WAS WRONG!

Jeff and I talked about the possibility, the blind hope we had that MAYBE it could happen. Maybe we could have the miracle. So if you can call it trying when you're up against the impossible, we tried, always open to starting a family. I wrote to this little miracle for months, about how loved they would be whenever and however they finally came. Maybe it was because I literally could not accept the "truth" but I never lost all hope. I don't even know if the hope was genuine or it was to protect myself from self-destruction, but I remember the sad looks most people gave me when I shared that hope with them. But I clung tighter to my mom's "miracles happen," and one did.

While being pregnant is considered controversial for my health to some, my top-dog doctor at DFCI gave us her blessing. There won't be additional scans or appointments with her, although my ovaries are under close watch from the absolutely insane ultrasounds I've had multiple times already. Holy crap. Never have I ever experienced anything as amazing. I understand why Tom Cruise bought his own machine so he could see his baby whenever he wanted. But the peasant life makes us settle for rewatching videos of the ultrasounds, seeing the little babe wiggle around in my tummy over and over. Never gets old!

We are 12 weeks into this life-long adventure and overjoyed to be sharing it together. I cannot believe I ended up with one of those stories where you get to create a family with your very best friend. The odds always seem to be in my favor. I feel like the luckiest gal (and mama!) in the world. And while I have been shown incredible love from countless people on this planet, I think our little meatball already has me beat!

I'll be sure to share updates but it was really important for me to share this news for a few reasons:

1) I'm exploding at the seams with excitement over it and the only person who has had a harder time containing his joy is my father.

2) I know enough to know I don't know much and can only do so much without a community of support. I love my family, blood or not, and appreciate all the love you guys always shower us in.

3) It has been a very cool experience physically. I feel well-prepared from chemo and have had many, many sick days, but the new connection I have with my body is insane. It has been ages since I felt the way I do now about every inch of it. It's a feeling I've never experienced this strongly. I'm obsessed. And like I said in part 1, Jeff was the person to push me to find this love again. If with him I got to about 85-90% of loving my physical self again, this little miracle has brought me to 100% and then some. All I want to do is pamper and strengthen and care for the ol' bag of bones that has carried me through the last 27 years. It's only fitting that the baby that allowed for this full self-love to happen is created by our love together. I am so thankful for this man. I am so thankful for this child. I am so thankful for our family.

4) The general message of hope. I hope cancer survivors find hope in this miracle. I hope average Joes do too. Our world could always use more stories of hope and miracles. Hang in there and hang on. Sometimes you get exactly what you want :)

Cheers to a summer of sweat and stretch-marks!

Saturday, April 2, 2016

Pt 1: You can't always get what you want..

Ain't that the truth. I remember my first experience of this that really got to me. 

It was my HS senior year state meet (I guess I cruised through life for 17 years?), when it all is supposed to come together one last time and it didn't.

It happened again in college, when I bought into what I thought would be a dream school, and it wasn't.

When my dad started having problems with his health. When I got thrown into the world of teaching. When the surfer hunk saw me as a sister. When I moved to Chicago. When I was reintroduced to winter in the Midwest. When I got cancer. When no one wanted to treat me. When I experienced Nicaraguan health care. When I was told I was infertile. When I got shoved out of the place I thought I'd change the world with. And most definitely, when I met my boyfriend, Jeff.

But, I've lived a pretty extraordinary life in my short 27 years and cannot complain too much about all of the times I didn't get what I wanted. I have been blessed with wonderful friends and family that are always eager to support and encourage me. I've faced various moments of struggle, ultimately all of which have proved to be opportunities for growth. Obviously, cancer was one of them.

A lot of damage happened when I was sick, the most devastating was to my self-image. I spent 23 years without insecurities and overflowed with confidence. So much changed so quickly, and I while I smiled a lot on the outside (genuinely) there was a lot broken on the inside.

Now I am a notoriously private person when it comes to relationships, I like to keep things between us. Things always get messy when others get involved. So many of you probably know very little about my boyfriend, Jeff.

I met him bald as a baby, which he found to be quite attractive and still encourages me to bic my head whenever. I was at a point in my life where I was just starting to lose my trademark shine. A slow friendship built but our lives didn't really intertwine until I moved back to California and he came along for the ride. I remember telling him something along the lines of, "You're probably gonna fall in love with me by the time this trip is over, just a warning, everyone does." I was at a very Kayla-centered focus of my life and had zero interest in men. I was making myself a priority and didn't want anyone to interfere with my healing. But I didn't get what I wanted.

Instead, I got a wonderful human that I connected with in a new way and made me want to be vulnerable and share myself with another. It was a classic happening of "the second you decide you want to be alone, your person walks into your life." I got someone who made me think outside of myself and feel pretty normal around. With him, I started to see things in myself that I thought were lost forever. I got a fast best friend and someone I knew I had to hold onto. I had lived enough life and relationships to know that this feeling in my tummy and chest was quite unlike any other feeling and I just had to hold onto him. And I wanted to hold onto him. But I didn't get what I wanted.

Instead, I got a guy who was going to leave me in a week to move across the world to continue to fulfill his dream of playing volleyball professionally. Whose interests included anything BUT being held onto. A guy who enjoyed every second of his "childhood" he got to continue living out there, playing a game and hanging with his friends all day, sans responsibility. So a special friend he remained. And through our friendship he continued to push me to grow into whomever it was I was becoming. Eventually, I started to believe the things he saw in me and I gained the courage to not only seek help with my problems but to solve them. I knew what it would take to love myself again and eventually be able to really love another too and it was time to do that.

Timing is a funny thing. It's everything. And when it's off it's so frustrating but if I've learned anything, it's that it's always off for the right reasons. It was frustrating to love someone a world away, but truly I wasn't ready for what I wanted. I am so thankful for this slow timing. If I had gotten what I wanted then, I probably would have become so dependent on him for my happiness and self-worth. I needed to have time to heal, to stop hating parts of myself and find love and respect and praise for every inch inside and outside of myself. I needed to do that on my own. Luckily, the man I loved happily encouraged this because it also allowed him to do the growing and searching he needed to. So I didn't get what I wanted but instead I got what I needed.

Our whole relationship has been a bunch of ebbs and flows of missed timing. Distance separating us, wanting different things at different times, and just not being ready for what we had together. A whole lot of not always getting what I wanted. But, like with all stories that end happily, one day life happened and we had that coming to Jesus moment of "Hey, are you ready for this?" And when that moment (finally) happened, we both had the same answer... "Yes."

Looking back, am I so thankful that it has all happened when and how it did. When we were both truly ready. When I knew how to love myself. When he truly learned how to love another. Jeff brings out the best in me and all along the way has been the biggest aide to my healing and rediscovering love for myself. I am so thankful for the man I get to call mine. And I am so thankful that I didn't get what I wanted for as long as I didn't so we could get what was best for us instead. 

Be thankful for the times you don't get what you want because sometimes something better is on the way. Trust the timing. Try to be honest with yourself about when is the right time for what. Because when it all comes together, exactly as it should, magic happens.

Check back in for part 2 to read about the magic I'm talking about...

                                                                      Love Conquers All

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

musings, losings and recreational boozings

Another beautiful opportunity for you to learn a lesson from my life that I am genuinely trying my best at (most of the time)..

If you were to rewind back to May of 2014, you would have found me starting my first go at Tamoxifen, a hormone therapy drug that I was supposed to take for up to 10 years, in hopes of keep my estrogen levels low and the chance of cancer returning even lower. I could not wait to start. As it turns out though, combining starting survivorship, reentering normal life and screwing with your hormones isn't the most fun a girl can have. It started out really challenging, reached a somewhat manageable point, and then all came crashing down on me. I suffered as silently as I could through the fall but by December, after weeks where I would sometimes go up to 3 days without sleeping a wink, crying for 4 days straight over NOTHING (one time it was about the Bering Strait. No JK.), hot flashes and a hoo-haw damaged so badly that things like sitting and walking were very painful, I finally asked for help. "Help" came in the form of an antidepressant that was all wrong for me, and I became the farthest thing from Kayla. While trying to give it the full 3 week adjustment period try, I made some very poor life choices, hid from friends and family, and even went as far as trying to convince medical professionals that I should be admitted into a mental hospital in fear of just how far I'd feel myself slip away (turns out I didn't fit any of the criteria to be admitted, yet because it was Christmas time I also would have to wait until the new year to receive any attention).

So I made the decision that if the usual help wasn't available for me, I'd have to just help myself. That was the first time in my life where I think I truly decided that I wanted to live. For me, there has always been a difference between doing things to stay alive and deciding to live. This was a decision-to-live moment and that was the day I went cold turkey off the anti-depressant and the hormone therapy. (Note: This is not advisable for the majority and not the lesson I am offering here.) What followed was beautiful. I eventually got off the couch,  my laughter grew more genuine, my thoughts became clearer, I found real enjoyment, I slept without medication, an interest in sex returned, "normal" seemed nearby... And for the first time since May 2013, I started to find myself again.

With a returned joy for life, I was able to think long-term once again. For months I think that I would have been fine with cancer returning. That's really fudged up. But I think it's pretty true. It's not like I wanted to suffer again but I didn't care to live either. Those days were somehow behind me though and everything felt lighter and better and my life was a real gift once again. And not just a gift for those around me but for myself too. I fell madly in love with my friends and my family and a wonderful man (Jeff) and an incredible woman (me) and I wanted to do everything in my power to be around for all of them. I wanted to be around for my family, to see my friends continue to make me proud, to have adventures with the babe-a-rama I'm lucky to call my boyfriend, to raise a family and to grow old, saggy and gross.
The best way I knew how to do that was to make certain dietary and lifestyle choices and return to Tamoxifen.

My previous medical team was nothing short of amazing and I am forever grateful. But here's a lesson for y'all... When someone tells you you have to do something, even if it greatly alters your quality of life in a negative way, YOU DON'T HAVE TO DO IT. Desperate for someone to tell me that being off of Tamoxifen was ok, I finally came clean to my cousin who is a top-dog oncologist at Dana Farber in Boston. Her response was not what I wanted, and without much coaxing, we decided to switch my care out to Dana Farber, placing me in the hands of the doctor you'd consider the "expert" for YA with breast cancer. Hence my recent Boston visit. We won't be moving to Boston, but from now on we will be commuting there for care.

Sometimes "good" care isn't good enough. When you're a unique case, you need the best. My new medical team is GREAT. Love them, felt very empowered, informed and confident that I was in the best of hands. I especially liked the way my doctor sat right next to me and affectionately rubbed my arm or called me "a baby".. it was very maternal and I noticed how much she really cared. Our final plan though included trying Tamoxifen again, this time we only had to give it "the college try" (3 weeks) before deciding to continue or not. Since last December, another option has come out for younger women with the kind of breast cancer I had, so she said if Tamoxifen didn't work again we'd try something else. And suddenly I couldn't wait to give it another go. Couldn't wait to do everything I could to get more of this whole wonderful life thing!

3 weeks later...

Day one was spent in bed. Day two was spent on the edge of a breakdown, quite nauseous with hot flashes. Day three began with tears that became sobs that threw all logical thoughts out the window. After a hysterical shower, I realized no one was home so I desperately tried calling anyone who would listen and just let me cry to them... My dad reminded me that it was probably the medication and that I needed to let my doctor know right away. I felt super guilty not being able to do this again. Like I had failed. Like I was letting people down. But my father's words reminded me that one pill wasn't going to be the deciding factor as to whether or not I would live a long and happy life.
"What good would this life be anyways if you spent it in tears all the time?"

I left my doctor a message relaying what was up, my boyfriend returned and after discussing it with him and my parents, we decided that it was gonna be OK if I stopped and they helped me not feel as thought it was a failure on my part. We all decided that consulting my doctor immediately was the best move. Jeff assured me that it would also be ok if I had to continue on it too. We'd figure it out.
Things are a lot less scary when you have someone else by your side.

Within minutes she responded to stop the meds immediately. If I could do a back-flip I would have. We'll go in for another visit soon and discuss another option, which included ovarian suppression and endocrine therapy.

I know nothing about this yet, no more details, so save your questions or google it? This is all the information I have. I was hesitant to share, like I have been recently, because the influence of outside opions sometimes really get into my head. Like the guilt I felt. I'm not going to feel guilty though about choosing quality of life over quantity of days. This will be much more enjoyable for everyone if Kayla is Kayla.

So I guess my lessons for everyone are to avoid settling for a life someone tells you you should be living, ignoring of how it feels to you. I've been way too guilty of this move in the past and that's just not a mistake you make when you realize what a lucky dog you are for getting a second chance. Seek alternative options and opinions, and make decisions with people who consider what you're saying while REALLY LISTENING TO YOU. Be an advocate for yourself. Seek those with your best interests at heart. And hell, if you're lucky enough to have a life, enjoy it. Whatever that means to you.

I feel a little rusty at this whole blogging thing. Guess it was more of an update than a lesson. Anyone want a free three months of Tamoxifen though?

Christmas is coming, have a beer. Cheers.

Monday, August 3, 2015

A letter to my little sister:

Grease tried to teach us that “the only man a girl can trust is her daddy.” But when you consider how real and common “daddy issues” are, I struggle to believe this is a universal truth. Others will argue that there are only two men a woman can depend on and their names are Ben and Jerry. The reality about those two though are while they might provide temporary comfort, those fuckers will leave you bloated with extreme dairy belly, feeling even worse about yourself.

Men are a different breed, they operate differently (and usually slower) than us, but there are good ones out there. They aren’t all bad, they’re just.. different. The point of this isn’t to bash men. The point of this is to help you through the unfortunate lesson you are in the middle of learning.

Every single person at some point in their life has found themselves in a relationship that left them feeling stupid. We gave too much. We were used. We ignored the obvious signals that something bad was happening. We silenced the voice inside telling us to get out. We’ve all done it. Somehow it’s so easy to let it happen. We’ll spend hours calling out our friends on the stupid choices they make while we make our own. We know what we’re doing is wrong but we do it anyways. Why? Because some lessons we just have to learn firsthand and we have to learn them the hard way.

When the moment of collapse comes along, when the reality of how we compromised too much of ourselves for another slaps us in the face (and it always does), nothing feels worse. It hurts so much more than any other kind of break up because when you gave up a part of yourself, you lost it forever. Everything you poured into someone else will come rushing back to you in floods of memories and secret moments, but the person never does. And most of the time we knew this was going to happen. Maybe it was nothing in particular that they said or did, but there was an undeniable feeling for quite sometime that this was how it would all end. For all the good you felt, it’s scary to think you’ll never feel it again. But I don’t know that you should. Some highs are as high as they are because of how low you fell before it. You can tell yourself a million times that an angel with a smile like that couldn’t be the devil in disguise, pulling you into to something you shouldn’t be, but we all lose our balance sometimes. And at the end of it all, you usually find that the worst part of it isn’t losing them, it’s losing yourself.

So what do you do at the collapse? Collapse. There is no point in fighting it. Feelings demand to be felt, one way or another. Let yourself feel every way you need to. Maybe you put a time limit on it eventually, “I’ll only think of him at night,” and eventually you might stop thinking of him so frequently too. The trouble with real love though is you never really stop loving someone; one day you just stop needing them like you used to. And when that day comes, you do the single most important thing you can ever do for yourself. You make a promise. A promise to yourself that you will never again lose yourself to another.

Because real love helps us to develop into who we are and who we are trying to be. Real love betters us, challenges us and encourages us. Are they helping me to be the best version of myself? If not, revisit your current feelings. Let yourself feel awful now so you can remember this misery and avoid feeling this way again. Sometimes it happens more than once, but when you truly experience the cost of losing yourself and decide to never let that happen again, it’s actually pretty difficult to let it happen again.

How do we learn what real love is, so we can avoid this happening again? Start in your safe relationships. Your family. Your good, pure friendships. I learned about real love from my girlfriends. My sisterhood out in California is the most precious thing in the world to me because it was build upon pure, selfless love. The most frequent theme in our house is, “How can I help ____ to be the best version of themselves?” There is no selfish motivation, just genuine support. Identify these relationships in your own life and cling tightly to these people. Strive to build new relationships that function in this way. If you can learn this lesson at 20, you’ll be lightyears ahead of the rest of us.

I hope I am one of those relationships to you. If not, don’t depend on it. If I am, use me to lift you up. Just because someone wants to say some terrible things about you, it doesn’t mean you have to believe them. Just because someone wants you to feel like you aren’t good enough, it doesn’t mean you have to believe them. And just because someone wants to pull the rug out from under you and take away everything you’ve worked hard to become, it doesn’t mean you have to let them.

Here for you always because you are wonderful to me, you are good enough for me, and I believe in the woman you are becoming.
Sisters are forever.
Love you.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

for what it's worth..

"For what it’s worth… it’s never too late, or in my case too early, to be whoever you want to be. There’s no time limit. Start whenever you want. You can change or stay the same. There are no rules to this thing. We can make the best or worst of it. I hope you make the best of it. I hope you see things that startle you. I hope you feel things you never felt before. I hope you meet people who have a different point of view. I hope you live a life you’re proud of, and if you’re not, I hope you have the courage to start all over again." – F. Scott Fitzgerald

Thursday, April 23, 2015

An important thing humans should do

Share. Share your happy moments and share your hard ones.
If you can start a conversation, it's worth it.
If you can lift another up, it's worth it.
If you can encourage others to share, it's worth it.
And if you can let someone out there know that they're not alone, it is so incredibly worth it.