Every person who fights cancer has a story. One of the most powerful things we can do for someone is listen to their story and share it with others. These stories serve as a reminder of our connection to one another, and give us hope that we are not alone, even in the most challenging of journeys.
Discovering the lump at such a young age wasn't the hardest part.
It wasn't the shock of learning she had an extremely aggressive type of cancer. It wasn't working through graduate school while fighting for her life. It wasn't eventually losing both of her breasts.
For Kristin, it was losing her hair.
"I did not want people to treat me different because I was a chemo patient," Kristin recalls. "To my surprise, people were crueler than I expected them to be. It was quite unexpected to go out and have people laugh all the time because I obviously looked different."
At 22, Kristin didn't think much of the small lump she found near the center of her right breast. When that lump had tripled in size and hardened after only five months, she knew she needed to see her doctor.
After a shockingly rapid succession of tests, Kristin was diagnosed with Stage 1 breast cancer. But the cancer metastasized, quickly advancing to Stage 3 in the two weeks between her diagnosis and her first round of chemotherapy.
Kristin was surprised at how cancer affected her relationships. "A lot of people who I thought were my friends pretty much distanced themselves from me," she confides. "I barely heard from them and that kind of showed me who they truly were. And, I get it. For some people it is hard to be around someone who is sick, but when someone is sick that is the time they truly need your presence."
Already feeling isolated by her cancer diagnosis, chemo-induced hair loss made it that much harder for Kristin to want to leave her house. She confesses, "The fact that I was bald, and pretty much hairless throughout my body had me feeling somewhat insecure. I just decided to distance myself from the world and would only leave my house when it came time to go to my doctor appointments."
Even so, Kristin found ways to remain connected and grounded throughout her treatment. Her family's support was a constant. "I think it's very hard for someone who has a loved one going through cancer. So, I would try to make my family laugh as much as possible because they were more emotional than I was throughout the process."
She also found solace in her graduate studies, working towards a Masters in Forensic Psychology. "I would spend hours writing research papers and doing required assignments," Kristin shares. "This helped distract me from the idea of having cancer. Although I felt sick I pushed myself to keep going."
Another surprising part of Kristin's journey with cancer was the food cravings. Every week it seemed like a new food: some times, spicy; other times, starchy. There were a few constants, like bananas and french fries. Towards the later part of treatment, Kristin could only eat saltines and Chef Boyardee. She confesses, "I wish I would have consumed healthier food choices, but chemotherapy made everything taste disgusting."
Starting in 2017, Kristin started to make changes in her diet and lifestyle. She says, "Now, if I am putting something on my body or in my mouth I ask myself what benefits am I getting from this particular thing?" Kristin's feeling great, and positive about her future. Yet in the back of her mind, she is always a little concerned about the cancer returning.
Kristin's advice for anyone facing their own cancer diagnosis: prepare yourself mentally for the challenges ahead of you. "It's easy to tell someone you'll be ok," she cautions. "Believe me, I've heard it numerous times. But if you yourself do not believe you'll be ok, then the journey will be hard. One thing I said to myself was, 'Kristin, you are living in September with cancer, but your body will be cancer-free in January.' I just had to fight to get to January and I knew I would be alive, well, and happy."
A year after being diagnosed with breast cancer, Kristin was told by her doctors that she had thyroid cancer. Rather than feeling defeated by this news, Kristin faced this new challenge equipped with the knowledge and support she had found in her first fight with cancer. After 8 chemo infusions, 5 surgeries, and 30 rounds of radiation, she feels a profound joy to have survived such grave threats, completed her graduate degree, and reached her 25th birthday.
"I do have my days where I feel lost because I do not remember who I am without cancer," says Kristin, "but I slowly remember that this is my new beginning. I will forever be Kristin, but now I am stronger, wiser, and have so much left to do in this life."
No matter where you are in your cancer journey, we would love to share your Story of Hope. Please connect with us by emailing: hello (at) smartypits.com to get the conversation started.