Krista's Story - Chapter 4 "hope brings"

My cancer diagnosis was handed to me in relatively short order following an awful phase in my marriage. If I was to pick which was more difficult to navigate, battling cancer or a faltering marriage, hands down, I would say experiencing the turmoil of a broken home was by far worse. Contemplating why one battle was so much more debilitating for me than the other. I believe the difference in emotional severity between the two was associated with hope, or rather, the lack thereof.

Krista Matt Shurtz 7 billion ones Randy Bacon Photography

 

Hope is powerfully medicinal and I strongly internalized it while coping with the levity of my cancer diagnosis as well as while coping with the difficulties during treatment. Hope brings perseverance in the knowledge that there is the proverbial “light at the end of the tunnel”. While my cancer battle wasn’t without complications and setbacks, I was lucky in the sense that the treatment success for my type of cancer is high. So, it was relatively natural to heed the cancer battle cry to “never lose hope”.

In contrast, the hopelessness which engulfed the period during my faltering marriage was dark, all-encompassing, isolating, and lonely. Where I could see light in the distance encouraging me that there was a successful end to my cancer battle, during my marriage crisis, I could see nothing beyond my present painful circumstances. The heart ache I felt was physiologically real and the persistent pain in my chest during this period of time was unparalleled. In short, it was an awful time.

Krista Matt Shurtz 7 Billion Ones Randy Bacon Photography

 

If anything, this chapter of my story is intended to be an ode to Matt, my husband. When we were married, over 17-years-ago, we wrote the vows that we recited to each other during our wedding ceremony. Like most, we ended ours with the traditional commitment “to have and to hold, from this day forward, in good times and in bad, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, until death do us part.” Matt cared for me while I was sick, but before that, he persistently fought hard to maintain our marriage. In that bad time, he didn’t give up, when shamefully, I did.

 

Krista Matt Shurtz 7 Billion Ones Randy Bacon Photography

I have learned that few lasting marriages manage to avoid “the hard times” that truly test the commitment to those vows. Although, Matt and I mostly kept our marital struggles private, having a strong family and friend network made it so that our situation did not go unnoticed. Over time, it was that network that helped me finally see hope in what otherwise felt like a hopeless situation.


Hope brings peace and the fortitude to persevere on the promise that there is a good ending to a difficult period. As cliché as it may sound, the truth is, everyone is battling something - whether it is a faltering marriage, a cancer diagnosis, the loss of a job, coping with the death of a parent, death of a child parenting struggles or something else. My hope and prayer for you is that you would be that friend or family network who shows that there is hope during their time of battle, because having been on the receiving end of such encouragement, love, I know what hope brings.

Krista's Story - Chapter 3 "My Blowball Wish"

INTRODUCTION

"There are studies that show that for many women, losing their hair is worse than losing a breast. That's because you can conceal the loss of a breast, but hair loss is so obvious and apparent."

-- Marisa Weiss, M.D., president and founder, Breastcancer.org

I was taught as a child that dandelions that had matured into those spherical seed heads, or “blow balls” as I remembered calling them, were little wishes just waiting to be made. I would pluck them by the stem out of the grass, close my eyes, make a wish, blow on them, and then watch the seed heads softly float off in the air. I was reminded yesterday of blowballs because as I moved about my day, I began to notice little strands of blonde hair softly floating off in the air (and landing on my shoulder, or my arm, or the table, or the bathroom floor….). I noticed them floating down to the ground more frequency as the day progressed. To help counter the onset of tears that welled up in my eyes and the lump that formed in my throat when seeing the floating strands of hair, I found that often yesterday I paused, closed my eyes, and wished for strength.

My blowball wish.

Krista 2

 

It is not like I did not realize that this day was impending. In fact, my shedding is beginning nearly to the day that I was told it would begin. I was told, ‘about 14 days after your first chemo treatment your hair will begin to fall out. By three weeks after that treatment, you will probably want to just shave the rest off.’

Today is day 14.

So it begins. Over the course of the next week my hair will fall out.

When I was a child, my grandpa used to sneak up behind me and pluck out a single random stray hair on the top, middle of my head. “YOUCH!” I would holler while involuntarily scratching my head in attempt to relieve the twang from the pluck. He thought that was great fun. With an ornery smile he would place the plucked hair back on my head and say, “don’t worry, it will grow back”.

I know, “don’t worry, it will grow back.”

But the thing is, knowing that does not take away the pang in my chest from the feeling of being unfairly violated, again. My heart hurts. In perspective, the loss will be easier to mourn and heal from than forever losing my nipples. That loss was rough and one of the very first ones I had to deal with emotionally. I have spent lots of time staring at my chest in the mirror getting comfortable with my ‘new look’, because it is not normal. I believe I have gotten to a place where I am at peace with that loss. Losing my hair is just another loss to mourn and heal from. It is just another hurdle to overcome in my race for my cure. This next week will probably be the worst emotionally with regards to losing my hair. Dealing with the annoying hair-wrapped around the soap bar, clogged up shower drain, back of the elbow itch from a strand of fallen hair stuck on my arm...I know when it is all gone, I will pull out those wigs, hats, and scarfs I have compiled and have fun with my cue ball. 

As was the case in each physical and emotional struggle I faced leading up to this point in my treatment and recovery, I know that I will be given exactly the right amount of strength to see me through this struggle too. God is faithful. But until then, I will pause, close my eyes, and wish for strength.

My blowball wish.

Krista's Story "Chapter 2 - Carry On"

Exactly one year ago today, July 16, 2014, I found myself, again, in the hospital. Although relatively recently diagnosed, my complications had compounded and my fight with Breast Cancer was wearing me down both physically and emotionally. In my hospital room I journaled. These were my words: 

Krista's Story Carry On

I cried today. No, I take that back. I sobbed today, heavy sobs. Sobs which included those spasmodic hiccup thingies that carry on even after the tears stop. I sobbed for nearly an hour and when I was finished I felt weak and defeated. Then I mourned quietly. I do not recognize me in the mirror. My muscles are flat. My chest is frail and deformed. I have been mauled and I look like I have been mauled. Yes, I will win the war. But today I mourned that I lost this battle.  My halter top would not stay in place on my chest. Without my bags of jelly, the top slid down. Since I had no more treatments until 4:30 p.m., I simply wanted to dress in normal clothes and sit on a bench out front of the hospital and read. I wanted fresh air, summer sun, and a sense of normalcy. But I have been mauled and I look like I have been mauled and my top wouldn't stay in place. And so the sobbing began.

Through my tears I completed getting dressed, applied makeup, and primped my hair. Through my tears I packed my bag purse with my sunglasses, book, lip-gloss, and tissues. Through my tears I rode the elevator down to the first floor. Through my tears I walked out of the hospital into the bright, warm summer sun. I found a bench away from other people and continued my cry until finally reaching the "sup-supping stage." Then I sat back and quietly observed the life surrounding me.

A lot has happened, since I was diagnosed with Breast Cancer, not the least of which is the deepening of old friendships and the blossoming of new friendships. After my cry, I was visited by one of those new friends. In fact, I was visited by the friend who anonymously, and timely, had a clear square glass jar of bright red, orange, and yellow Gerber daisies delivered to my hospital room. I have three favorite flowers -- tulips, orchids, and Gerber daisies. To me, tulips show strength and independence with their single solid stem and upright petals. Orchids exude an air of sultriness and romance. Gerber daisies are pretty and feminine and speak to me as indicative of a season of new beginnings. I have worn my pink Gerber daisy clip nearly continuously since I started my fight with breast cancer. It is my subconscious symbol of a new beginning-- a still pretty, still feminine, new beginning.

Prior to today's visit, my friend and I had concurred on a universal friendship mission statement, abbreviated and paraphrased, but based on Romans 12:9-16.

'Love from the center of who you are; don't fake it. Run for dear life from evil; hold on for dear life to good. Be good friends who love deeply; practice playing second fiddle. Don't quit in hard times; pray all the harder. Laugh with your happy friends when they're happy; share tears when they're down.'

A lot of BEAUTIFUL has happened since I was diagnosed with cancer.  A lot more AMAZING is about to happen.

Krista's Story "Chapter 1 - Hope"

"Strip away all those things that you believe define you."

"Or, maybe not define you entirely, but rather identify you. Strip away those things that you believe characterize you--the good qualities that you are prideful of. Maybe you are not vocally prideful of these things, but you are subconsciously--if you are true to your subconscious. Strip those things away and pause to reflect. What makes you…well, you? The one in seven billion, you. What makes you, that?

If it is not your health, your hair, your breasts, your musculature, your energy, your intelligence, your job, or your family involvement. If it is not those things about you that you believed were a factor in setting your worth, or those things that made you smile. If it is not those things, then strive to figure out what makes you… a one in seven billion, you."

"Eight months ago, in front of my kids' elementary school just before I went inside to get them, I listened to my doctor’s voice over the phone tell me, “Krista, you have extensive, invasive ductile carcinoma. You need to see a surgeon tomorrow who specializes in breast cancer.” At that moment, those things that I believed were me, those things that made me smile… Those things began being peeled away. Layer-by-layer, I was stripped.

Layer. By. Layer.

I was stripped until what was left was void of superficial distraction. And then I began healing. Rebuilding. And learning what makes me, me.

This is my story of a rebirth. It is a story of hope."

Chapter 2 of Krista's story coming soon.