Monday, December 17, 2012

Surviving the Recovery: Part II

Hello everyone! Well, it has been nearly two months since my lost post, "Surviving the Recovery." And what a two months they have been! I can officially say that I am getting back to normal! Praise God! I am still not 100%. To be honest, I am not sure if I remember how it feels to be, "100%." But my vomiting has decreased to a few times a week, my eating has increased, and I have put on weight. All VERY good things. But this did not happen without a few kinks in the road.

After the November 1st procedure that I mentioned in my last blog, things continued to go downhill, and fast. The procedure did not fix the problem, and was basically a waste of time. After that, I had a horrible few days of vomiting and was not eating a thing. My liver and kidneys began to fail. At one point, probably the worst moment of this entire process, I feared that I would not make it through the night. I actually went to sleep at my parents because I figured, well at least I won't die alone. It was a very scary and surreal time. And I am so blessed to be passed that. That next morning, my parents and I realized that something drastic needed to happen and quick. That day I went and had a PIC line placed in a vein in my arm, and I began TPN. TPN stands for Total Parenteral Nutrition. I have a backpack that contains 2000 calories and vitamins that are being pumped into my system 24/7. This was literally my lifesaver. I began feeling better instantly. My colored returned. My energy level increased immediately. I put on 12 pounds in the first week. I was feeling so much better. And since then, I have decreased my TPN to wearing it every other night or so. I am going out to dinner. I am spending time with my family. I have resumed my Monday night "Girl's Night" with my favorite ladies. And I am finally feeling the joy and relief of being cancer free.

The past three-plus months of my life have been unreal. I cannot put into words the amount of stress, fear and anxiety that I have felt while recovering from this life-saving surgery. I often find myself asking God, why? Why did my recovery have to be this challenging? Why did the cancer return in the first place? And why did it have to happen after Dan died? And if we are going there, why did Dan die? What was the purpose of all of this? I realize that I am never going to have answers to these questions. But what I do realize is how much I have changed from this recovery process, and the past three years of my life. I have learned the true meaning of patience and faith. I have learned to let others help me, and that coming across as weak and helpless is not the end of the world. I have learned that true friends stick by your side through the worst times; even when things get scary. I have learned that family will do absolutely everything and anything for the ones that they love. I have learned that even when it doesn't seem like it, God is with us through everything; even when He is silent. I have learned a new level of strength and perseverance. I am a changed woman. I truly believe that God has big plans for my life. And I believe that I needed to experience all that I have experienced in order to achieve these plans.

I have lost a lot in this life. I have lost my beautiful best friend and Husband. I have lost the ability to have children naturally. I have lost my hair. I have lost my femininity. And I have lost, what feels like, the past three months of my life. But what I have gained is so much more: an incredible guardian angel, faith like a child, a clean bill of health, and most importantly, a new outlook on this life that I am blessed to have the opportunity to live.

And it must be said, I have the very BEST support system that any person can ask for! A huge THANK YOU to those who have supported me, in one way or another! Each and every visit, phone call, text message, Facebook post, and blog post have made this recovery process so much easier! Again, thank you! Now on to the next phase of my life. I have never been more excited to start a new year. I truly do believe that 2013 is going to be my year! Perhaps a new career? Perhaps a new relationship? Traveling? Whatever it brings, I can't wait to experience it healthy and cancer free!

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Surviving the Recovery

CANCER FREE. Two words that I have waited years to hear. After all of the radiation, chemotherapy, and surgeries, I couldn't wait to be cancer free. Well, here I sit, cancer free, and I am unbelievably miserable. This is not what I expected. It is worse.

My surgeon warned me that my recovery wouldn't be easy. He mentioned to expect 6-8 weeks for recovery, but I just brushed that off. Perhaps I should have taken him a bit more seriously. I was so focused on surviving the surgery, that I figured any recovery would be a cake walk after all that I had been through. I could not have been more wrong about anything in my life. I felt better when I had cancer. I could eat when I had cancer. I could socialize when I had cancer. I could travel when I had cancer. I was a fully functioning human being when I had cancer. And now, I am a shell. A shell of what I once was.

But I am moving too fast. First things first, the surgery. The morning of the surgery was terrifying, but not as bad as I had expected. Perhaps it was because I had done this all once before, so I knew what to expect. I was surrounded by my immediate family, and felt very supported. And before I knew it, they were wheeling me back to the operating room. I was cold. I was shivering. I was scared. And like all surgeries, or tough times that I go through, I thought of Dan. I pictured him in Heaven, with a giant pair of wings, looking over me. And as they injected the anesthesia into my veins and had me count down from ten, he was all I was focused on.

After a long eight-hour surgery, I woke up in the intensive care unit, alone. My family was not allowed to be there overnight, but they could visit. I vaguely remember seeing them there, but I do remember them telling me that I was cancer free, and that the surgery was a success. I forgot all that once the drugs hit me. It took me at least two days to fully understand all that had happened. And once it hit me, I was relieved. I was happy. I was even happier once I got to my own private room where I could have visitors all day long, and someone with me at night. I am baby when it comes to staying at the hospital, and I like to have someone with me at all times. And they were. My family was amazing. I will never be able to repay them for the sacrifices they have made, and the support they have given me. I even had a few friends come from Santa Maria to visit, which meant the absolute world to me. To be honest, I don't totally remember every detail of them being there, but I know they were there. Drugs are a very powerful thing, and kept me quite out of it for the majority of my time there.

My last few days at Stanford were pretty rough. I began getting nauseous and sick from the meds and the feeding tubes. I was becoming anxious. Antsy. Depressed. Homesick. I had tubes coming from everywhere. At one point, there were five tubes coming from my body, and that quickly became too much to handle. So I did what any self-respecting, 27 year-old woman would do; I cried. I begged. I pleaded to be sent home. I could not handle being in the room anymore. Twelve days was long enough. They agreed, and I went home on September 23rd to start the recovery process. Little did I know, I was entering hell.

I have been home for 35 days, and I feel that I am only getting worse. The first week was terrible. I had thrush in my mouth. I was vomiting almost every day. I couldn't eat. The tube feedings were making me feel even worse. I needed help taking showers and walking up and down my stairs. It was, and still is, a very humbling experience. Then there was about a week or so where I began improving. Praise the Lord. My thrush cleared. I was able to keep food and fluids down, and I was feeling energetic. I was optimistic. Finally.

Fast forward to the last two weeks... WOW. I have never felt so bad in my life. This is definitely a step in the wrong direction. I am going backwards, and that is the most frustrating feeling in the world. I am throwing up at least three times a day, am nauseous 24/7, am taking in maybe 300 calories a day, and (prepare for over-share) have terrible diarrhea. I am so dehydrated and lacking from Potassium that I need fluids every couple days from my Oncologist here in town. Things are not going well. And I would love to be able to end this blog by saying that all of that passed, and I now feel 100%, but that would be a lie. I am in the middle of the worst of it; the thick of it. I have had some of my darkest days in the past 6 weeks. I have cried my eyes out. I have not gotten out of bed on some days. I have given up. And I have started again. 

After a follow up appointment with my surgeon last week, he discovered a "tightness," or kink in my small intestine. This kink is preventing food and liquids from properly flowing through my system and being digested. This is the culprit for all of the misery, or so I pray. I will be having an outpatient procedure to fix the problem on November 1st. A balloon will be inserted in my mouth, and into my intestine. The balloon will then be inflated in the area of, "tightness." This procedure should fix the problem instantly. Prayers are appreciated.

Losing Dan took all of my emotional strength to survive. And I know that I have got it. This is requiring physical strength and patience that I am not sure that I do have. I fear that my body is slowly shutting down on me due to lack of nutrition, and the fear is crippling. But it is something that I must face every single day. This road is extremely tough. Like I mentioned earlier, I felt better when I had cancer. I have to remember that I am, believe it or not, a healthy, cancer free 27 year old woman, like I had prayed for for so long. That is hard to remember amongst the vomiting and nausea and crying. I start each day by putting my feet on the ground, and praying for an ease from the nausea. The fact that I try to get out of bed at all is a miracle to me. So, that is all that I promise to do. I will try to be positive. And I will try to eat. And I will try to be tough. But I know those things will come and go. But I do promise to get out of bed and TRY.

Thank you to everyone for all of your love and support during my recovery! I wouldn't be where I am without all of the kind words, prayers, cards and flowers! So again, THANK YOU!!

Friday, October 5, 2012

October 5, 2010

                It is strange to think that when I woke up in the morning on October 5, 2010, that Dan was already dead. When I was in the shower, dead. Doing my hair, dead. Driving to work, singing along with the radio, dead. My world had completely crumbled from underneath me, and I was clueless. My Husband’s wonderful and loving heart had stopped beating, and I was checking work emails. The thought sickens me.
                I was in an event planning meeting around 10:15am, when my co-worker knocked on the door. She entered the conference room; her face as white as a ghost. When the words came out of her mouth, I knew. “Kristen, you need to step out. Your parents are here.” I even looked at my co-workers and said, “Well, that can’t be good.” I walked into my office to find my parents there. My Dad looked straight at me, and told me to get my stuff together and that we needed to go home. I asked why, and the following words shook me to my very core: “Dan died.” Just like that. Two words and I fell to the ground. Not a tear fell from eye. My parents walked me to their car, and we drove home. I sat in the back with my Mom and continued to just shake my said and say, “No. No. No.” I could not believe it. I had heard the words, but couldn’t comprehend them. I needed to hear it from them. I needed to hear it from the Air Force.
                The drive home seemed to take hours. But finally I had arrived at my house. I walked in my kitchen door, and there were three people standing in my living room, in their full dress blues. Col Dodge, whom I had spent some time with at some previous get togethers, walked up to me and grabbed my hand. “On behalf of the United States Air Force, we regret to inform you…” He continued talking, but I think I quit listening. It was true. Dan had been killed. I walked over to the couch and sat down, and lost it. The Chaplain came and sat next to me. And I remember looking into his eyes and telling him that I knew Dan was in heaven, and that he was in a better place. I surprised myself in that moment. I had a sense of peace over me that I could not explain.  
                That peace did not last long. I started to wonder how long they had been at my house. How long was I work, while these three individuals were waiting to deliver the worst news that any wife could hear? I so wish that I would have been the one at home to have opened the door when that dreaded knock came, but I wasn’t. My Aunt Layne had moved in a few days prior to help fight the loneliness during Dan’s deployment. She was the unfortunate one that received the knock. And I feel horrible for that. That was my job. She then called my parents, who came and informed me at work. Again, I feel horrible. No parent should have to inform their child that their best friend and spouse is not coming home.
                After that, word spread among my family, and people began showing up at my house. And each time a new person entered the door, I broke down. My poor brother was away at school in San Marcos, and had to make the long drive home, knowing what he was coming home to. And my brother-in-law was golfing in Orange County and had to make the same, long drive. I can't imagine what was going through their minds during those hours on the road. I literally sat on my couch as floods of family and friends came in to give their condolences. Some gave awkward hugs. Some cried with me for what seemed like hours at a time. And some just didn’t know what to say. But at that time, the only thing I wanted to do was talk to someone in my Johnson family, but I couldn’t. I had decided that I wanted his parents to be told by the Air Force, rather than sharing the news with them myself. I did not feel like I could deliver the news in a respectful and tactful way, which they so deserved. So I had to wait for what seemed like days. I believe it was about three or four hours after I had been informed, that Dan’s Dad had received the news.  I took my cell phone and went in the backyard, alone. I couldn’t wait to hear his voice and cry with him. I called him and he answered. “Hi Kristen!” My heart stopped. He didn’t know. How did the Air Force mess this one up? Now it was my job. My job to inform this loving and devoted father that his son had been killed. It took seconds to share the news, and we said our goodbyes. My heart broke all over again. But now that his family knew, it was public knowledge. Facebook started going crazy. My phone was ringing non-stop. And the news wanted interviews. All within hours of finding out. It was intense.
                At this point, all of my family and closest girlfriends had arrived at the house. But for some reason, I could not wait to see his EOD co-workers. His brothers. A co-worker and very close friend of Dan’s was badly injured in the same explosion. I knew that they all had Bob and Dan on their minds. But they still came to be with me, and offer me support. They arrived all together. A family. And I hugged each one of them for what seemed like minutes. It felt so nice to have them there. They offered me, and continue to offer me, a level of comfort and familiarity that I cannot explain. We all sat there and told Dan stories. We made fun of him. We joked about his mustache. I laughed. And it felt good. But every so often, there would be a break in the stories and the laughter, and it would hit me. Dan was never coming home. My Husband of four months was not coming back to me. And the unbearable pain returned.
                The night grew later, and I remember my Dad trying to get people to leave at a relatively early hour, and I fought it. I remember him saying, “Kristen has to get some rest.” No way was I going to rest. I did not want people to leave my house until my eyes absolutely had to close. The last thing I wanted to do was go upstairs and lie in my bed, and think.  Think about Dan and his last few moments of life. Did it hurt? Was it quick? Did I cross his mind?  These were not questions that I was prepared to ponder at this point. So I didn’t.
                I sat on the couch, surrounded by people, and I must have dozed off. You know that moment when you are mentally awake, but you have yet to open your eyes? Well in that moment, I remember thinking what a terrible and horrific dream that I had just had. I felt relieved. And then I opened my eyes. My girlfriends and siblings were sleeping all around me. Some were on the floor. Some were on the couch. Some in the guest room. This was not a dream. It was my very real nightmare. I glanced over to my cousin Lindsey who was sitting at the computer. She looked at me with the most loving and soft eyes, and said, “I love you Goo.” It took all of my energy to mouth the words, “I love you too.” I then asked her if this was all real, and all she could do was shake her head in affirmation, and say I’m sorry. I closed my eyes again, and fell back asleep.
                I woke up the next morning in my bed, with no recollection of how I ended up there. I was alone. I could hear the rustling of people downstairs making breakfast. All I could think to do was text his best friend, Gerald, and ask him if it really happened. I still have the text message that says, “Yes. I am sorry Sweetie.” I somehow found the strength to get out of bed, go downstairs, and start my day. Not only was I starting a new day, but I was starting a new life. A life without a Husband. A life that included funerals and memorial services in my near future. A life of constantly be referred to as, “the widow.” A life I did not ask for. But a life that I could not be more PROUD to live.
                The days, weeks and months that followed were not easy. Picking out a plot at the cemetery was torture. Writing his obituary felt like a dream. His funeral was a blur. But I survived it. And like I have said many times, I am now a changed person. I am jaded. I am morbid. I have read his autopsy report at least 100 times, and can tell you every single injury and scratch that he sustained. I keep it in my bedside table. I make inappropriate jokes at even more inappropriate times. And I must admit, I sort of like the new me. I am the proud military widow of SrA Daniel James Johnson. My greatest honor.
                To my Daniel, the last two years without you have been a rollercoaster. I miss you more than words can describe. I wish you were here to walk through this cancer journey with me, and to hold my hand. You are my Hero. You are my Angel. And I will forever be your wife. I love you. Forever and Always.


Tuesday, September 11, 2012

It's About That Time...

To-do lists. Packing. Cleaning. Organizing. That is all I have been doing for the past week. And as soon as I successfully cross something off one of my many lists, another item is added just as quickly. That is how I prepare for my surgeries; I go into extreme OCD mode. My lack of control regarding tomorrow's surgery results is to blame. If I can't control the outcome of this surgery, then I will control how clean my kitchen floor is, and how perfectly ironed every piece of clothing that I pack in my suitcase is. That's how I cope. It helps me to relax and to feel as if I have some control over my life.

A girl can only clean and organize so much. So after five straight days of it, I had the chance to escape it all, and spend time with my Johnson family in Wisconsin. And even better, I got to spend a few days honoring Dan at the SrA Daniel James Johnson Memorial Golf Classic. It was just what I needed. God clearly knew what He was doing when He joined Dan and I together. His family and friends are such an incredible source of comfort to me, especially during the rough times. I feel so at home when I am with them. We laugh. We cry. We tease each other. We support each other. Sitting in our condo, laughing until our sides ache. Sharing "Dan" stories. Being harassed by his best friend, just as they would do to one another. Hearing my niece and nephew call me, "Auntie Boo." Talking and laughing with my amazing sister-in-laws. It truly was a perfect weekend.

However, perfect weekends can only last so long. So here I sit. Alone in a hotel room near the Stanford Hospital. I so wish I could have stayed one more day. But there is no time for that. There is no time for anything. I am not even going home; I have gone straight from Wisconsin to Stanford University. And now, all of the fear and anxiety that has been building up inside of me for the past few months is surfacing. This is when I become a recluse; which is the second phase of my pre-surgery ritual. Phase one: OCD and turning into a stress case. Phase two: taking some alone time to feel everything that I need to feel. Time to stress. Time to cry. Time to worry. I will run through every possible scenario in my head. I will pack my bags. And then re-pack them again. I will read my Bible. I will pray. And I will try to remember that God is in control. The operative word in the previous sentence is "try." As much as I know that worrying isn't going to help me, it is all I can seem to do. But when the worrying becomes a bit overwhelming, I try to picture the end product, or at least what I would like the end product to be. I see myself happy. I see myself healthy. And I see myself doing something that I love and that I am passionate about. And I cannot wait to be at that place.

I am scared. But I am ready; ready to start the next phase of my life. And if that phase is to continue fighting this disease because this tumor is inoperable yet again, then that is what I will do. If that phase is to start anew, as a woman who is a cancer free, then that is what I will do. And if that phase is to join Dan and our Heavenly Father, then I have to believe that this was God's plan for me. I am just so tired of playing the waiting game, and not knowing where my life is going. And in less than 24 hours, I will know. Wow. My chest just automatically tightened up.

That being said, I want to take a moment to thank everyone who has supported me and encouraged me during the past few years of my journey. Thank you to those strangers who read my blog and send me encouraging posts and messages. Thank you to my Facebook friends who are so kind and loving, even when I have not seen many of you in years. Thank you to my friends who have put up with me as I have been an emotional wreck. I have friends who have been my punching bag on my worst of days. They forgive me when I have been selfish, rude and out of line. I am so blessed to have friends who understand that this is not normal Kristen, but hopefully she will be back soon. And to my wonderful family; words cannot express how lucky I am to have you all in my life. To love me. To support me. To know every possible flaw and downfall, and to love me just the same.

Tomorrow is the big day. 7:15 AM, California time. I will be a ball of nerves. Tonight will be tough, and tomorrow morning will be even worse. But, like I mentioned earlier, going through these feelings are a must. So, if you get the chance, throw up a prayer or positive thought in my direction. Hopefully, I will be posting again soon, and possibly as a person who is CANCER FREE. And if not, well then I have got one hell of a support system to continue the battle. Much love and blessings.

Friday, August 24, 2012

The Void

After months of deliberating, months of panic attacks, months of denial, and months of utter fear, a surgery date has been set. And it feels good. A weight has been lifted off my shoulders. It took me long enough to make the decision to proceed with this surgery, and the fact that it is quickly approaching is a crazy feeling. I have never been contradicted with so many various emotions. Fear. Anxiety. Excitement. Hope. And at this point, it is exhausting.

Don’t get me wrong, the thought of being cancer free is exhilarating. I often find myself day dreaming about my life, post cancer. And it is beautiful. A career. A man who loves me and supports me. Children. I literally become giddy as these thoughts take over my subconscious. But as quickly as they enter my mind, the leave. And they are replaced with an emptiness. A void. And that void can only be filled by one thing; my Husband. I have so many nights where I lay in bed laden with fear, and a horrible feeling of loneliness. I so wish that I could reach over in bed and feel Dan lying next to me. Feel his arms around me. Feel his kiss on my lips. Rather, I reach over and feel nothing but cold sheets. And that is a heart wrenching feeling. And unfortunately, that is a feeling that I am all too familiar with.
As I battled my first bout of cancer in 2009, Dan was deployed to Iraq. And although we were thousands of miles apart, he was still there for me every single step of the way. He would call during every chemo session and talk me through them. He would email me Bible verses multiple times throughout the week. He supported me. He encouraged me. He loved me. And although I am surrounded by amazing family and friends at this trying time of my life, there is still something missing. HE is missing.

I can’t help but think how different things would be if Dan were here with me. In all honesty, it is painful to think about. I know that I would be his number one priority. He would have slept in my hospital room during both surgeries and both in-patient chemo sessions. He would have been the one to shave my head, and make me feel beautiful during the entire process. He would have sat with me as I threw up for weeks straight because of radiation. He would have supported me during the in-vitro process. He would have made me laugh when I wanted to cry. He would have pushed me to press on when I wanted to quit. He would have been my rock. My everything.
In less than three weeks, September 12th, I will be going in for a life-changing and life-threatening surgery. Instead of having my Husband there to hold my hand, I will have him there as my guardian angel. Yes, that thought is very comforting and puts me at ease. However, as I sit and write this blog, I am experiencing the fear and anxiety of this surgery, rather than the excitement and the hope. I don’t want a guardian angel. I want Dan. I want him to hold me. To kiss me. To tell me that everything is going to be okay. I want to open my eyes on the day of surgery and see his gorgeous green eyes and sexy smile looking back at me. I guess I will have to do without.

I have been without my Husband for 22 months and 19 days. September 12th will be the date of my surgery. However, it will also be just another day that I wake up in an empty bed. Another day without hearing his voice. Another day without touching him. Another day of being Dan Johnson’s widow. But God willing, September 12th may also be the day that I become cancer free. The day that I get my life back. And I will do my best to go into this day and make Dan proud. To be brave. To be strong. To depend on God. To be the courageous woman that he married.

“Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.” Psalm 23:4

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Out with the Old, In with the New

I realize that many of my blogs sound repetative. Woe is me. I have cancer. I am a widow. My life sucks. That being said, I have felt like I need to make a change in my life, but was having trouble figuring out what that change was. I realize now that it was not one big change, but multiple little changes to make my life what I want it to be. Hence my newest entry...

My once boring and mundane life is now tumultuous, dramatic, scary and extremely stressful. And as sad as it is for me to admit, I have adjusted to this new life and have accepted it as normal. I have accepted my situation for what it is, and have decided to make the absolute best of it. I have been trying to change the unchangeable for the past few months, and I give up. Dan is dead. I cannot change that. I have cancer. I cannot change that. I will be having an extremely dangerous surgery in the near future. I cannot change that. I feel powerless. And that is very frustrating and tiresome. Because I cannot change those things in my life, it is time for me to take power of the things that I can change. And I am doing it with a vengeance.

With all that I have been through in my short 27 years of life, I have learned that I must make the best of the time that God has given me on this earth. For Dan, it was a very short, yet very precious, 23 years. Dan lived his life with zeal, enthusiasm and a faith so on fire for God. He took risks, loved with all that he had, and did not take himself too seriously. I envy him for that, and am trying to follow in his impossible-to-fill shoes. I am very honest with myself, and realize that my life may not be a long as I hoped. I may not live to be 90, with grey hair, and lots of children and grandchildren. My life may end on the operating table in six weeks. My life may end in 10 years. My life may end in 60 years. Who knows? But what I do know, is that I am going to make the very best of my life here on earth. My time is precious. And because my time is so precious, things must change.

I know I have said this a number of times, but I have been so incredibly blessed by the people in my life. I have a wonderful and loving family, in-laws that I love just as if we were blood, and a group of friends that I would do anything for. However, I also have people in my life that do not deserve to be there. People who are negative, do not build me up, stress me out and cause me to question who I am. These are people that I am not willing to waste my time on. I love the person that I am, and if you do not accept me, or better who I am, then I need to break away. I need space. God places certain people in your life for a reason, and I can truly appreciate that. However, I can also recognize when people have served their purpose. I have a lot to offer as a friend and a lot to offer in a relationship. Those who do no appreciate that are not welcome to be a part of my journey. I want family that loves me unconditionally, friends that encourage me, and boys that give me butterflies.

Another area in my life that I can control is how I treat the body that I was given. As many of you know, I spent a lot of time being overweight when I was younger. Truth be told, I reached 227 lbs in college, and I will never see that number again. I cannot control the cancer that is in my body, but I can control what I put in it, and what I do with it. I will fuel my body with healthy foods, and I will do my best to work out when I have the energy, to make it as strong as I possibly can. Surgery will knock me down, and hard. I won’t be able to eat for at least two weeks, and work out for about a month. I will make my body the strongest, and healthiest that it can possibly be going in to this surgery. It will help me make a quicker recovery, and will help me start my cancer-free life on the right foot. And if the tumor is not removed and the cancer remains, then my body will be strong, healthy, and ready to continue the fight.

Lastly, I can control what I do with my life when I am cancer free. Key word being WHEN, not IF. After losing your Husband at the age of 25, and being dealt the incredible blow that is cancer, twice, you truly gain a new appreciation for life. I do not want to waste my time sitting behind a desk, or doing work that does not stimulate me, and fill me with accomplishment and purpose. I want to be passionate about what I do after this surgery. I want to follow my dreams, because I can. Dan loved being an EOD tech, and he did it with such passion and dedication. He looked forward to going to work everyday. He loved deploying, and he loved saving lives. He died doing what he loved. If I can find a career that I love as much as he did, I would consider myself extrememly blessed. My life will be great. I want to write. I want to travel. I want to fall in love, and I want to raise a wonderful God-fearing family.

My tumor is shrinking, and that is so incredibly encouraging. This new news makes me want to do the surgery as soon as possible, and put this all behind me, once and for all. I am ready to be done.  But I would not change the fact that I am sick. It has given me strength and faith that I couldn’t ever fathom. But I am ready to make these changes in my life, and move on. I am ready to live life to the fullest, and never look back. I will have no regrets. I will say what I feel, and I will wear my heart on my sleeve. I will make mistakes, and I will learn from them. As corny as it sounds, I will live each day as if it were my last. I have never truly understood that quote until I realized that my last day may be sooner than I thought. It is time to clear out the clutter and negative things in my life, and move on with a fresh outlook on who I am, a fresh outlook on what I deserve, and a fresh outlook on life after cancer. And I can not wait to start this new life. Ready, set, go.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Letters From My Love

Four years ago today, July 18th, 2008, I started dating the love of my life, Daniel James. He is not only my Husband, but my soul mate, my Hero, and my Angel. I have been so incredibly blessed to have been a part of Dan’s life. Our two years and three months together were so full of love, laughter, faith and commitment. We laughed. We dreamed. We planned a future together. We had it all, and we were so happy. Our life together was cut short. He was ripped from me in a matter of seconds, and my life was changed forever. I was changed forever.

As I was sitting in my room last night, missing Dan and being so overcome with anger at where I am in my life, I decided to read through all of the emails that Dan and I had ever sent each other while he was deployed. That was the best decision I could have made. I often feel sad, lonely, depressed, scared and worthless. These feelings can be so incredibly daunting and consuming, but they are real. And I understand that many of these feelings stem from the hormones and side effects of my chemotherapy, but they are real nonetheless. Reading through Dan’s emails, and reading his words of love and comfort take away all of the negative thoughts and feelings that run through my mind, and that is such a blessing. Below are a few quotes from my Love:
“I love you so much sweetheart...have I told you that before? Maybe once or twice. We truly do have a blessed marriage and I feel so lucky to have found you! I sometimes think of all the things that led me to meet you. Like starting with making the decision of joining the Air Force, then deciding to do EOD, and getting stationed at Vandenberg, and finding South Valley CC to go to and meet Bobbie and Vince and go to the bible study. God definitely has a plan for our lives. Everything that happens in our lives happens for a reason and God is in control! You are an amazing wife and I love you so much!!!! I will talk to you soon :)”
“Well sweetheart, I Love You very much! And I miss you very much! I can't wait to come home to you :) Soon enough. I'm praying for you everyday baby! Stay strong and I will talk to you soon! I LOVE YOU!!!”
“Well Sweetheart, I am going to get some sleep. I will dream about you!! I Love You VERY VERY VERY VERY MUCH!!! :) And I can't wait to hold you in my arms again! Soon enough babe! I'll talk to you soon honey! Have a good day at work today and try not to get stressed or have a bad day. Think of me and smile :) I Love You!!”
“And I can't wait to talk to you again! I loved hearing your beautiful voice last night(morning for you). I know it's only been a few days, but I miss you so much baby! But I know we can do it! God is protecting both of us and He is there to comfort you and help you through this deployment, me too.”
These very personal and very private words from Dan mean so much to me. Even in his absence, he has helped me through some of the worst times. He continues to encourage me, continues to remind me to lean on God, and continues to build me up to be the woman that God intended me to be. I realize that I am not the same woman that Dan married. I was a very strong, confident and positive person. Now I am a shell of what I used to be. I am sick. I am weak. I am scared. And I doubt myself in every aspect of my life. How did I allow myself to become this person? I often think that Dan would be so upset at how I have changed and morphed into the new me. But I know that he would still love me and support just the same. He would kiss my bald head. He would rub my back as I threw up from chemo. He would hold my hand throughout countless doctors appointments. And he would be my rock. I need my rock. I need him here to keep my head above water, because I often feel as if I am drowning.  
Dan’s words remind me to carry on. They push me through to the next day. I have been blessed with amazing friends and family to help me through this journey. But my biggest blessing of all has been him. I really do not have much of a message with this particular blog. I am simply putting my emotions down on paper. I am remembering Dan, and the amazing and strong Husband that he was. 
I want to be happy again. I want to smile and have it be genuine, not forced. I want to love someone with every ounce of my being. I want to encourage people. I want someone to look at me the way that Dan did. I want my old life back. I want to not hurt.
To my Daniel, thank you for being a constant pillar of love and strength for me. I know that I can get past this. I know that I can make you proud. I know that I will be happy. I know that I will be whole once again. Just give me time. Forever yours,
- Your Wife

Friday, July 6, 2012

I Am Over Being Overwhelmed

Oh how I miss the days of stressing over a term paper deadline, or being nervous over an upcoming tennis match. Those days have now been replaced with stressing over my tumor, and being nervous about how my life will reconstruct itself in the future. If I have learned anything in the past three years, it is that I need to make "me time" a top priority in my life, which is something that I often have a hard time accomplishing. With all that is going on, I often find myself utterly overwhelmed. I am often so overwhelmed with various emotions, that I just shut down on the inside; robot mode. From this blog on, I am vowing to dedicate more time to me. More time to relax. More time to take a deep breath. More time to travel. More time to write. And more time to realize that I am still here, living this life.

 I am not working right now, but I often find myself wishing that I was. I want something to fill my mind besides my tumultuous life. I want deadlines. I want staff meetings. I want business trips. And the fact that I am not working is just another reminder that I am sick, and cannot physically do so. So instead, I find myself with time, time to think. Time to think about my illness, and that I may not be around in a few short months. Time to think about my Husband, and the fact that the love of my life was ripped from me in a matter of seconds. Time to think about how I cannot have children naturally, and may never have children. Time to think about how my family will react if something terrible happens to me on the operating table. Too much time to think. Overwhelmed? Hell yes.

 Perhaps one of the most difficult things about my life is that I do not have the opportunity to forget about it, even for a short time. Each day I am reminded that I am sick, or that I am widowed, or that my life is at a standstill. I try to work out and stay healthy, but my energy level is so low that I am tired before I even begin. I try to go out and have fun, but I fear that every door handle I touch or table that I sit at may be infected with bacteria that can make me extremely ill. I try to make myself feel attractive every day, only to come home and take my wig off at night, and feel ugly once again. Reminders of my new life are everywhere, bringing me back down to reality with a powerful and painful punch in the gut.

 On a more encouraging note, this overwhelmed girl has been blessed with many things to keep me occupied. So instead of sitting around thinking, I try to live. The operative word being, “try.” I have a new hobby; golf. Well, I think you can call it a hobby. I am absolutely terrible at it, but it is fun. I now understand why Dan would curse incessantly during the game; it is extremely frustrating. But, I love the driving range. There is something so incredibly therapeutic about the silence of the driving range, and being able to smack the heck out of a tiny white ball. It is my escape. As is shopping. Retail therapy is the best thing out there, and I am great at it. And there are so many things that I still want to try. It is one my goals to catch a fish in my lifetime. I want to travel, I want to skydive, I want to camp, I want to write a book. I want to, and I will.

 And when I am at my most overwhelmed, I turn to my family and my friends. I cry with them, and I laugh with them. I do not think that my family and friends realize how much it means to me when they spend time with me. Whether it is a quick dinner, or a weekend out of town, it means the world to me. I often find myself holding back when I want to visit with my friends. I always fear that I am "bugging" them, or being an annoyance. I do not ever want someone to spend time with me because they feel obligated. So when I do call or ask to hang out, it is usually because I genuinely need to be with someone. So I whole heartedly appreciate those who have made the time to be with me, even at my craziest. You keep my head above the water. My lifesavers.

 Being overwhelmed is a scary feeling, because it is often hard to come out of. I have gone days on end being so overwhelmed that I cry myself to sleep. And I have had days where I can mentally check out and focus on other things, which are a huge blessing. Those are the days that I need more of. I know that this phase of life that I am in is temporary. But it has become my new normal, which I do not enjoy. I need this phase to be over, because I am not sure how much longer I can go with being overwhelmed, sad, anxious, worried, depressed. But, I will continue to fight through this time in my life, because I know that there is light at the other end. I may fake a smile at times, but I am smiling nonetheless. I may fake a laugh at time, but I am laughing nonetheless. Unfortunately, my tears are real. Those I cannot fake. The hard truth is that there have been more tears then smiling lately. More tears than laughing.

Just keep swimming. Just keep swimming.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

The Decision

As many of you already know, I have been faced with a decision. A scary, gut-wrenching, life altering decision. Let us recap: 40-40-20. Those are my statistics. I can either have surgery and, A) have a 40% chance of a successful tumor removal and valve replacement, B) a 40% chance of the surgery being deemed inoperable, or C) a 20% chance of a permanent colostomy bag, or death. OR I decide against the surgery, and walk away from it all and live my life to the absolute fullest until I can no longer do so, which I have been told may be around five years or so. That is the decision that I have been faced with. Scary, huh? Over the past six weeks, I have spent a large amount of time in a little place I like to call, "denial." I try my best to completely forget about "the decision" unless I am ready and prepared to put some serious thought into it. Otherwise, I stress, I cry, I worry and I eat chocolate. None of which are good things.

 After many days of denial, numerous emotional breakdowns, inappropriate death jokes and long talks with family and friends, I have decided to take a risk with the 40-40-20, and have the surgery. I think I always knew that this is how I would decide; I was simply not ready to say it out loud. Because in reality, this surgery is life changing. I either leave the hospital cancer free, leave the hospital to live my life because the tumor was inoperable, or I leave the hospital for a funeral home. Harsh? Of course. My reality? Unfortunately. These are the thoughts that run through my mind twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. And until the surgery, this is what I have to worry about.

 Another thing I will worry about? What if things do end badly? I am extremely OCD, and want things done a certain way. That being said, I will also spend my time planning. Planning what you may ask? My funeral. I have been in the position of picking out caskets, picking out funeral music, picking out burial plots, and it is not fun. It is emotionally exhausting. If things end badly, I do not want my family to have to make these decisions. So I will make them for them. I will tediously write down every minute detail. It will not be enjoyable, but it must be done. And I will write letters. Just in case things end badly, I will write my family and loved ones letters to share my heart with them, and to say goodbye. Dad, Mom, Breanna, Nick, Justin, Gracin, and a few others. Writing these letters will not be easy, but it is something that I must do for myselft, and for my loved ones. I want to tell my sister that she was such a great role model to me growing up; always doing everything first so that I would know the correct path to follow. To tell my brother that although he is my younger brother, he has always made me feel so protected and so taken care of. To tell my nephew that he brought light into my life in the darkest of times. There are so many things I want to tell people, and I fear that I will not have the words, the time, or the strength to put it all on paper. But I will try.

I am sure many of you are wondering why I chose to proceed with the surgery. Like I mentioned in a previous blog, my friend told me, "If you choose to walk away, you are choosing death." And he is right. Having the risky surgery and taking a chance at being cancer free is choosing life, and I chose life. There has to be a reason for all that I have endured in my short life. There has to be a reason that I lost my wonderful Husband at the age of 25. There has to be a reason that I have had cancer twice in three years. I am meant for more than dying at 27 on an operating table, or in a hospital room. I truly believe that I can make an impact on those around me once this is all said and done. I want to encourage. I want to inspire. I want to look back at my life in five years and be so grateful that I walked through the darkest of times because the life I will have then will be so amazing and blessed. I want to be past this. But, in order to be past this, I must walk through this. I must go through the fear, the anxiety, the emotional pain, the worry. And I am ready to do so. I am ready to be cancer free. I am ready to start a new chapter of my life. And I will cherish every moment from that point on. I will encourage others with my story. I will spend more time loving on my family and friends. I will take more risks. I will fall in love more passionately. I will praise God with all that I am. I will honor Dan with every day of my life. And I will make a difference. This, I am sure of.

So, THANK YOU to everyone who has encouraged me and prayed for me during the decision making process. Thank you to my family who has sat by patiently as I shut them out and snapped at their opinions. Thank you to my friends who have laughed with me, cried with me, and simply spent time with me knowing that I did not want to be alone. I would not have made it this far without the amazing and loving people that I am blessed to have in my life.

I am not sure what the future holds for me. But I am sure of my decision. I am sure that I want to live. I am sure that I want to hold my nephew in my arms again. I am sure of my faith. Faith that God has a bigger plan for my life.

"For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future." -Jeremiah 29:11

Thursday, June 14, 2012

My First Widow Encounter

I have belonged to numerous "groups" over my lifetime: girl scouts, soccer teams, tennis teams, youth groups, Bible studies, study groups and many more. I have always enjoyed being a part of a team or group. There is a sense of camaraderie and unity unlike any other. And the newest group that I belong to… by far my favorite. I belong to an amazing group of women and men that we refer to as "military widow(er)s."

One week ago, I was fortunate enough meet my first military widows since Dan's passing. Taryn, the founder of an amazing organization known as the American Widow Project, and Sonia, another awesome widow, and myself, all had the opportunity to get together in Santa Paula, California. We got to take part in a great adventure. We spent the afternoon triking, which is much like a seated hang glider. It was one of the best things I have ever taken part in. As we were soaring over the ocean with the sun setting in the distance, I couldn't help but sense Dan's presence. I felt so at peace at that moment, so connected to my lost love. It was one of the most exhilarating and relaxing days that I have ever experienced, and I will never forget it.

But aside from the thrills of triking, I experienced something even more real and more amazing, a connection with two widows. When you lose your husband in your twenties to war, those around you offer you countless words of solace and comfort, but very few can actually relate. And those words are comforting, don’t get me wrong. However, when I had the chance to look into the eyes of two other military widows who know exactly what I have been through and exactly how I feel, there are no words. I realized that day that we are all so similar, yet so different.

There is no right or wrong way to grieve, but many people think that there is. Over the past almost twenty-one months of widowhood, I have often thought, "I am doing this wrong." Did I laugh too soon? Did I pick out the right casket? Would he approve of his headstone? Should I have already gotten rid of his belongings? Should I take off my wedding ring? Should I NEVER take off my wedding ring? These thoughts and thousands of others have plagued my mind, causing me nothing but stress and unnecessary sadness. It wasn’t until I met these widows, when I realized, we all do things in our OWN time, and in our OWN way. Some widows date instantly, and some take years to even consider looking at another man in that way. Some widows quit their jobs and take some time to travel, and some immediately jump into the routine that she knew before her Husband passed. Some widows leave their Husband's belongings in the closest for years, and some clean it out within a few weeks or months.  Every single decision that I have made since Dan's passing has been right for ME. That doesn’t mean that other widows are doing things wrong. My grieving is going to look much different than every other widow's grieving process. Dan's belongings are still in his closet, his body wash is still in the shower, my rings go back and forth from hand to hand. That is what I need to do, and no one has the right to judge those decisions.

Regardless of what I do and when I do it, I have a connection with other widows that I will never have with anyone else. We all received that dreaded knock on the door. We all were handed a folded flag in our Husband's honor. We all now have to check the "single" box when filling out various forms (I choose to create my own “widowed” box if it doesn’t exist!) We all had our lives changed in an instant. We are a sisterhood. We don't judge each other, we support each other. I will continue to reach out to my friends and family when I need support and love. But, I also know that when I am around other widows, I can ask the crass questions, discuss the innapropriate thoughts that have crossed my mind, and be completely, 100% MYSELF. And THAT is something that I will forever cherish. Thank you to all my fellow widows and widowers who share in this sad, depressing, crazy, life changing experience with me! Much love! xoxo

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

From "Hello" to "I Do"

Two years ago today, I had the immense privilege of marrying the love of my life. Two years ago today, I stood face to face with my best friend as we joined our lives together in front of our families, and our friends. Two years ago today was the beginning of the rest of our lives; or so we thought.

When my friend and co-worker, David, told me that he had someone that he wanted to introduce me to, I was excited. I had never been on a so-called "blind date" before, so the thought was slightly terrifying. However, I agreed that if he didn't tell this person that it was a set-up, that I would agree to come to his Bible study and meet this mystery man. And I did. Upon first impression, I did not think that Dan was someone that I could see myself with. He was shy, quiet, and seemed completely NOT interested in me whatsoever. I left the Bible study that evening not knowing if I would ever go back. It wasn't until the Friday that followed where I felt the spark.

My girlfriend and I were attending a country concert at the Santa Barbara County Fair, and there he was, cowboy hat and all. I followed him, yes followed him, to the men's restroom, and acted very surprised when we "ran into" each other as he was exiting. We exchanged numbers then, and made plans to get together after the concert. From that point on, I was hooked. We spent nearly every single day together following our "chance encounter" at the concert. Seven months into our relationship, Dan was deployed to Iraq. My best friend was leaving me for seven long months, and I was devastated. And to make things even worse, three months into his deployment, I was diagnosed with cancer. Not having Dan around during what I thought would be the most difficult time in my life seemed impossible. But he made every ounce of effort to be there for me as best he could. He talked me thru every single chemo session, sent me encouraging emails and Bible verses, and never failed to tell me how much he loved me and how special I was to him. He was my rock, even from thousands of miles away.

His homecoming in September was amazing. It was so nice to have him home with me. Everything felt right with the world again. I had the love of my life back, and I was ready to take that next step. A few months passed by, and we fell back into our dating routine, and it felt so right, so perfect. We agreed not to exchange Christmas gifts with each other because we had spent quite a bit of money visiting his family after his return. So when he handed me a large wrapped box on Christmas eve, I was bewildered. As I opened the large box, there it was. A small, perfect velvet box taped to the bottom. And in front of my entire family, he got down on one knee and asked me to be his wife. Overcome with emotion, I found a way to say "YES" thru the sobbing and shaking. I was engaged to be married to the best man I had ever met. I was ecstatic.

We knew we wanted a quick engagement. I had spent seventeen months dating this man; I was ready to be married. We planned our wedding for June 5th 2010, and the planning frenzy began. I, being slightly OCD, took charge of every minute detail. Dan, bless his heart, tried to help where he could. We often found ourselves arguing over the littlest details such as ribbon color and the flavor of our wedding cake. But, it was all in good fun. The five months flew by, and June was here before we knew it.

Our family had come from all over to be with us on our special day; Minnesota, Illinois, Wisconsin, Oklahoma, Washington, Florida. The two days before the wedding were a complete blur; last minute details, meetings with the event planner, dinner with the families. Looking back now, I wish I would have taken the time to truly embrace those few days. To enjoy the petty arguments about music. To enjoy the hustle and bustle of family dinners. To enjoy my last night in my parent house. To enjoy the nerves that came with the entire experience.

My alarm went off bright on early on the big day. I woke up to my sister lying next to me, and my girlfriends sleeping in the adjoining room. I was so relaxed, so at peace, and SO ready to marry my man. The morning was just as I planned. Breakfast, champagne, and all my favorite girls with me to help me get ready. I felt so beautiful, just as every bride should on their wedding day. My nerves were growing with each passing minute. Minutes felt like hours, and hours felt like days. Waiting to walk down the aisle seemed to take an eternity, but the time had come. With my arm wrapped tightly around that of my fathers, I began to walk down the aisle. His handsome face is all that I could see. The lights, the music, the people, all seemed to fade into the background. He looked so wonderful. His slight smile put me at ease instantly. Finally, we were face to face, hand in hand. We were both so nervous. Our palms were sweaty, and our voices shaky. I distinctly remember him rubbing my hands with his thumbs throughout the entire ceremony. The ceremony went perfectly as planned, and we were husband and wife. I was Mrs. Daniel Johnson.

The reception was a blast. We danced, we drank, we laughed with family and friends. I was literally on cloud nine. During our first dance as man and wife, I felt as if I was floating. Everyone in the ballroom disappeared, and it was just me and him. As the night went on, bouquets were tossed, cake was smashed, and memories were made. Memories that to this day, are as vivid as if it happened just yesterday.

"They" always say that your wedding day should be the happiest day of your life, and for us, it truly was. I was so extremely fortunate to have had the opportunity to know perfect love, if even for a brief time. Dan was truly my partner. He was my equal, and my best friend. The memory of our wedding day is bittersweet. Today, I will look back at photos and videos and I will smile. And I will also cry. We should be celebrating tonight with flowers, dinner and each others company. Instead, I will go to the cemetery and visit my Daniel there. I will take him flowers, lay on the grass, and daydream of our perfect day.

To my Daniel, thank you for the best four months of marriage that anyone could ask for. Our time as Husband and Wife was brief, but so full of love, life and laughter. Being your wife will forever be my greatest honor. I will love you, Forever and Always. -Your Wife. xoxo

Monday, May 21, 2012


First and foremost, I want to update everyone on what I have been up to since my last blog. As you all know, I have been faced with an extremely difficult decision regarding my health. Do I walk away from this disease and let the tumor take its course, or do I proceed with the risky surgery that involves only a 40% chance of survial and being cancer free? Hmm... NOT a decision to be taken lightly. And I have yet to make up my mind. As of right now, my amazing Oncologist is simply buying me time. We are going to do a few more rounds of chemo, starting Tuesday, which will allow me to put some more time and thought into this life altering decision. However, if my tumor at any time stops responding to treatment and begins to grow, a decision must be made quickly. I will keep you all up to date when a final decision has been made. And thank you all so much for being so loving and supportive during this crazy and insane time of my life. I am truly blessed to be surrounded by such amazing people.

To bring me to my next point and the reason for this blog...

I am THOROUGHLY annoyed. While attending my brother's graduation weekend, (CONGRATS Nick, so proud of you!!) someone referred to me as having a lot of "baggage." Wow. Baggage? Really? It is not like I have a dangerous and crazy ex, or five children from four different men! I have a dead husband and cancer... not baggage. This is just another reminder that my life is different now; I have a new "normal." Four years ago... I did not have this so-called "baggage." My life was quiet and I was happy. I had never experienced death or extreme grief. I was sheltered and nieve. I thought that no bad could touch me. Fast forward four years... my best friend and Husband was killed, and I am fighting for my life. Funny thing is... I like this Kristen better. I like the jaded, morbid, OCD, figther version of myself that I have become.

The "baggage" that I have in my life has taught me so much, and has allowed me to become someone that I never thought I could be. Losing Dan has taught me to love with all that I have, and to take risks. It has taught me to live my life to the fullest, because we are not promised tomorrow. Losing Dan has taught me to laugh harder, to smile more, to hug my loved ones a bit tighter, and to chase my dreams.

Cancer... another great teacher of mine. Having cancer has taught me to depend on others. I admit, I have trouble doing this at times. I am extremely stubborn when it comes to asking for help, but having this disease has taught me to let others in, even when I do not want to. Having cancer has taught me trust GOD, even when it seems impossible. Having cancer has taught me that five minutes of snuggling with my nephew is SIGNIFICANTLY more important than money, fame or status. It has taught me to fight with all that I have. It has given me strength that I never knew existed, faith that doesn't falter, and courage that allows me face the most difficult of times.

Since this "baggage" has entereted my life, I have become the woman that I have always wanted to become. I am stronger. I am wiser. I am more aware of how fragile life really is. So, the joke in on you. This "baggage" has made me who I am. And I am someone that I am proud of. So, for all you future suitors out there, or people who want to make judgements, judge away! Because I do not care. One day, someone will love me for all of my "baggage." I am blessed beyond measure to live the life that I am living. I have had the love of an amazing man and a true Hero, I have a family that loves me even when I do not deserve it, I have friends that laugh with me until we pee, literally, and I serve a God that forgives me on a daily basis and loves me unconditionally. My "baggage" is my favorite part of me! And to this crazy thing I call my life, BRING IT ON. Because I have proven that I can handle whatever gets thrown at me. I can bury my husband, and still find the strength to smile and laugh. I can sit in a hospital bed for days on end, and still think positively about my future. I can rock a bald head, and still realize that I am a WOMEN that deserves to be loved and desired.

Hmm... after writing this, I feel like I am closer to making a decision. I am a fighter. A close friend recently told me, "If you chose to walk away, you are chosing death." He was right. Walking away is giving up. Having the surgery is fighting, and this is a fight that I am going to WIN!!

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

My Harrowing Statistics

Death is something that used to terrify me. My biggest fear growing up was losing an immediate family member. As a child, it was a crippling fear. I would lie in bed at night until I heard my parents come home, and feared that they never would. Death is also something that I did not have much experience with. I have never had to bury a grandparent, or cousin, or friend for that matter. That was until I buried my soul mate, my hero, my Husband. After Dan’s passing, death became a reality to me. My biggest fear had come true; I had lost the love of my life. And it became very real, very fast. Within 24 hours of being notified of Dan’s death, I was picking out caskets, burial plots and songs to be played at his funeral. It does not get more real than that.

Since Dan’s passing, I have learned to live again. I have learned to laugh, to smile, to envision a future full of love and life. These things weren’t easy, but they did happen, in time. I have learned that life after losing a loved one is possible. It changes you, completely. I will never be the same person that I was prior to Dan’s death, but I am still here. Heart beating, blood flowing. Death is something I no longer fear. Well, that was until yesterday.
My cancer diagnosis was terrifying at first, but once I learned that it was controllable and not a death sentence, it just became part of my life. Dying from this disease was never discussed. Again, that was until yesterday. Apparently I have a very badly placed tumor. Not only is it sitting on a large vein in my abdomen, but also a large artery. Both of which are going to need to be replaced with veins from my thigh during the surgery. Oh the surgery... Yikes. Surgery is scary for anyone, but I have adjusted to it and have had four now. This surgery is VERY different. This surgery worries me. This surgery could kill me, easily.
40, 40, 20. Those are the percentages of survival that I was given by my surgeon. With a very somber and serious tone, he described to me, in detail, how very dangerous and risky having this surgery would be. There is a 40% chance that he can remove the tumor and replace the vein and artery, and I walk away with a full recovery; CANCER FREE. There is a 40% chance that he opens me up, and can’t even touch the tumor because of its location. At this point, I believe I just let the tumor run its course. The other 20%? Well, I am sure you can imagine. That 20% is driving me insane. Let’s discuss that 20%. Either the veins that they replaced don’t take, and my entire abdominal cavity dies, and I in turn, die. OR, my digestive track shuts down, and I have to be fed intravenously while I sleep at night for the rest of my life. And to top it off, I would have to wear a "waste bag" that would drain the waste from my stomach. Hmm… I do not like those statistics. 60% of my options will ultimately lead to my death; whether it be immediately, or after the tumor attacks my body to the point that it can no longer function. Now I have a very difficult decision to make. Do I risk the surgery? Take my chances with 40, 40, 20? Or do I walk away from all of this and live my life to the best of my ability until I can no longer ignore the tumor? I suddenly have a very bad headache.

The death of a loved one? A very scary thought. Dying yourself? An even scarier thought. This is what I deal with now. My own demise. How can I do this to my family and friends? Family and friends that have stood by my side thru my first bout of cancer, Dan’s death, and this lovely second bout. How can I leave my niece and nephew’s behind? They are two and one, they will not remember me. I think about the big things in life that I will miss; my sister having more babies, my brother eventually getting married and starting a family, my niece and nephews starting school and growing up. But do you know what scares me the most? Not being around for the little things. I can’t imagine not smelling BBQ in the air on a summer evening. I can’t imagine not carving pumpkins on Halloween. I can’t imagine not smelling my Mom’s perfume. I can’t imagine not holding Gracin in my arms. I can’t imagine not laughing with my little brother. These are the things that break my heart. These are the things that keep me smiling.
The alternative does not sound bad; spending eternity in Heaven with my Dan. However, I am not done living. I am not done loving my family and friends. I am not done making an impact in this world. I am just not done. 40, 40, 20. Do I risk it? Is that small 40% chance of surviving and being cancer free something to fight for? Or do I walk away. What would you do? 40, 40, 20. Not the odds I want, but they are what I am dealing with. This is my reality. This is my life.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

The Life of A Widow

It's strange to think that a title I never wanted, is a title that I could not be more proud to own. The word "widow" carries so much weight with it, especially at the age of 25. When people hear the word "widow," they usually picture an elderly woman who lost her husband of 50+ years, not a 25 year old woman who lost her husband of four months. But that is the card that I was dealt. And it is even crazier to think that I have been a widow for 18 months and 21 days. Some days it feels like it happened yesterday, and some days it feels like it was a lifetime ago that I saw his smiling face, gazed into those beautiful green eyes, or heard his loving voice. I can not wait to share the story of our last moments together, and the hell the followed October 5, 2010. But that is for another blog on another day, when I have the strength to sit down and put it on paper.

For now, I thought I would share some of my experiences with you since I became a widow; 18 months and 21 days ago. I would have to say that one of the oddest things that has happened since October 5, 2010 has been my new obsession with the Santa Maria Cemetary. Cemetaries used to terrify me. I had only been to one once or twice in my lifetime prior to Dan's passing. Today, the cemetary is like my second home. I go there at least every other day. I go there to vent, to think, to talk to Dan, to clear my mind. There are about five or six "usuals" that I see every time I am there. We wave, we talk, we share empathetic looks. It feels nice to see those faces. A reminder that I am not alone. However, there was one day when I encountered a rather strange woman. I was sitting at Dan's grave, lost in my thoughts, when I heard a voice call out from across the cemetary, "Is that your Husband?" I replied yes, and went back to my business. She then called out, "Car accident?" I said no, and informed her that Dan was killed in Afghanistan. She then came back with, "Did they shoot him dead?" Who says that? That takes some nerve. The next thing she said is something that I have heard more than once. She said, "Well, at least you are still young." That offers me absolutely NO comfort or relief from the pain. What does that even mean? I don't care that I have plenty of time to find another Husband, I want the one I had!

Another thing I hear quite often is, "Thank goodness you didn't have children with him." Why? I would have loved to have created another life with Dan before his passing. I would love to be able to look into our child's eyes and see a part of Dan every single day. One person even told me that I was lucky to not have had kids because now I have a "clean break." Yep, that one left me speechless.

I also realize that there are times when I make the inappropriate comment out of anger, frustration or annoyance. I was at a local bar a few months after Dan died, and a man at the bar asked me if I would take off my rings for a night and forget that I was married and be with him. Extremely creepy and inappropriate. I quickly came back with, "I don't think my recently dead Husband would appreciate that." His jaw dropped. I realize that it was probably not the classiest response, but hey, I never claimed to be classy. And when the checker at the grocery store told me how pretty the flowers I was buying would look in my house, I replied with, "Well I hope they look good on either side of my Husband's headstone, because that is where they are going. Now ring me up please." Again, not my proudest moment.

Being a widow has not only made me proud and strong, but it has also made me crazy and jaded. And I love it. After picking out caskets, writing your Husband's obituary, burying your Husband, and dealing with hundreds of sympathetic head tilts for the months following, you change. I am so incredibly proud to belong to such a great group of people; military widows. We are strong. We are proud. We are weird. And I am SO happy to have the support and love of the military widows that I have had the pleasure to come in contact with. Again, "widow" is not a title I ever wanted, but it is one that I am incredibly proud to rock!!

Saturday, April 7, 2012

My Body Is Not My Own... Thank You Cancer.

Since my first blog, I have been to Mammoth Lakes for a great vacation with my family, celebrated my 27th birthday, got my nose pierced, and spent some time with my amazing family and friends. I am so blessed to have been able to do all of these things. However, at the end of the day, my body is not my own, and I am painfully aware of that.

Cancer takes its toll on all parts of the body, mind and soul. It is physically, emotionally and mentally draining. However, probably the hardest one for me to deal with has been the physical changes that I have had to accept since my diagnosis. I have always had body issues, since I was the chubby kid in school. I have always been extremely weight conscious and have done my best to get my body to a point where I feel comfortable and proud of who I am. Well, it is fair to say that all of that went out the window when I began my chemotherapy treatments in October.

The first time I ran my fingers thru my hair, only to pull out a large handful, was one of the hardest times of my life. And my first bald spot, well that was a rough night. But, I hid my emotions and my pain from everyone around me. I acted like I was taking it in stride, and that I was doing all of this in the name of being “cancer free.” When in reality, I cried myself to sleep every night. Women are feminine, they are supposed to have hair, and soon, I would not. It got to the point where I would wake up covered in my own hair, and it was miserable. It had to go. I had planned a night where all of my family and friends would come and support me while I shaved my head, and they would do the same to show their love and support. Two days before the event, I realized that shaving my head was something that I needed to do in private. I could not imagine looking in the mirror at my newly shaven head for the first time in front of 30 of my closest family and friends. I choose to shave my head with my immediate family and a few girlfriends. I needed to do this so that I could breakdown and accept my new look before being in front of people. It was difficult. It took me about 20 minutes to finally allow my friend to even touch the razor to my head. And ten minutes later, I had a shaved head. It was the strangest feeling that I have ever experienced. That night, I felt liberated and free. The next morning, I felt ugly and not like myself. This was the new me, and I hated it.
Wearing a wig every single day is extremely obnoxious, but I do it. I am not afraid to be without it, but I chose to wear it and continue to feel feminine and pretty. That is until the day is over, and I am in my room, alone and hairless.  This is when I lose it. I do not like what I see in the mirror. Not only am I bald, but I am heavier that I was when I started the treatment. My weight fluctuates on a weekly basis, and I cannot control it. I retain so much water that at times, my feet are so swollen that I cannot get them in my shoes. Feminine? I think not. My eyebrows fell out and now I have to draw them in. Feminine? I think not. I throw up constantly,  and have been so weak at times that I needed assistance showering and changing clothes. Feminine? I think not. I have so many scars on my stomach from numerous surgeries that it looks disfigured. Feminine? I think not. I struggle each and every day with the new me. I feel sorry for myself. I cry. I get angry. But, at the end of the day, this is what I have to do to live. I like to think that I have done this all with a smile on my face, but that would be a lie. The last seven months have been some of the hardest of my life, aside from losing my wonderful Husband. I cannot wait for the day where I have my long hair back; where I can feel feminine and beautiful yet again. Because this new life isn’t quite working for me.

You know what would make all of this worth it? Having my Husband here with me through it all. I know that he would love my bald head, and would kiss it every single night before bed. I need this. I need Dan here to help me through this life changing experience, and to remind me that I am still as beautiful as the day he married me. There are times when I am ready to quit and give up, and to let the cancer take me. But I know that there are too many people who love me and need me to survive. So, I will try my best to fight this cancer. I have given up my hair, and that is all I am willing to lose to this disease. I can beat this, and I will.

Monday, March 26, 2012

27... now what?

In one week from today, I will be turning 27 years old. Wow. When did that happen? When discussing age with friends or family, I always joke and say, "I am almost 27 and have NOTHING to show for it." I say this with extreme sarcasm, and possibly a bit of truth. Years ago, when I pictured my life at 26, I invisioned myself gainfully employed, with a loving Husband, a child or two, and my Masters degree. Snapshot of my life as it stands... No career. No Husband. No children. No Masters degree. Hmm... definitely not what I pictured. Do you ever look at your life, and not recognize it as your own? I do that on a daily basis. What is the reality of my life now? I am a 26 year old military widow and cancer patient. My situation does not allow me to chase my career goals as of right now, and that is difficult to accept, but I have. My situation has made it nearly impossible to conceive children in the future, and that is difficult to accept, but I have. My Husband and best friend is dead. Difficult to accept... but I am working on it. So, here I sit, one week away from turning 27 years old, and it dawned on me... I am blessed. Confused? I am blessed to have been able marry the man of my dreams and to know true love, if even for a short time. I am blessed to have had him by my side as I fought cancer the first time, and to have him as a guardian angel as I battle it, yet again. I am blessed to have an amazing family that loves and supports me in everything I do. I am blessed to have a small group of friends that mean the world to me, and love me just as I am. I am blessed to have nieces and nephews that call me Auntie. I am blessed to be alive, and to be fighting this cancer. So, what will my life look like at 27? Whatever I want it to. In the next year of my life, I will travel. I will start my Masters degree. I will welcome another niece/nephew into this world. I will fight this cancer with all that I have. I will laugh. I will cry. And I will thank God everyday for my life.

There is no doubt that this world is full of suffering, loss, and heartache. But, it is also full of all the beautiful things that keep us smiling on a daily basis. Sure, I still have my bad days where I lay in bed and cry, and that is okay. But I also have the type of days that start off slow, and end up chasing the snow on a mountain top in the distance, only to reach it and witness some of God's natural beauty. I love those days, but I have chosen to embrace both types. The good days are blessings, and the bad days help to mold me in to who I am.

In one week from today, I will be 27 years old, and have PLENTY to show for it.

"Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope." Romans 5: 3-4