I did a horrible job of keeping up with my blog in 2018, as you can plainly see. In true Kate fashion, life threw a lot of curve balls at us through the year with a whole lot of suffering sprinkled with some joyous moments in between. Looking back, it was the absolute toughest year since I was diagnosed with Stage IV Metastatic Breast cancer nearly 6 years ago. That is pretty hard for me to even type out, but the truth is, the only reason I made it through the year was thanks to the silver linings of life. Here are the top 10 things that happened in 2018: the good, the bad and the crazy.
1. I celebrated 5 years of living with MBC
Can you even believe it? In 2013 I was told I had a less than 15% chance of surviving for 5 years and yet here I am! I will never forget the surgeon walking in to my hospital room with the news that they would try and save my life but that I wouldn’t live more than 18-24 months. Nothing like having your mortality slap you right in the face. I have responded exceptionally well to my treatment along with following the strict protocols of routine exams, scans and medications. It has not been easy whatsoever but it is just what I have to do to live. I don’t have a choice. I set 5 years in my mind as a milestone I wanted to see. And if I did see it, I was throwing a huge party. My friends and I decided there was no better way to celebrate than throw a huge 90’s/00’s themed party. It was definitely one of the best moments of my year! My friends and family went above and beyond and spoiled me rotten. I was just happy to be there celebrating alongside them. At one point, we were all dancing in a circle singing “Fight Song” by Rachel Platten and I couldn’t help but cry for every single person that was there surrounding me touched my soul so deep. I couldn’t have made it without them.
2. Heart Break… literally
The treatment I take is cardiotoxic which means that it can negatively impact the function of your heart. Over time, it wears your heart down and how much blood it can pump through your body. Some women can last on this drugs for decades, some women only a few years, some women only a few months. My left ventricles have not been able to pump as much blood due to the toxicity of my medication and I started experiencing pretty serious heart symptoms at the end of 2017. By the beginning of the year, my heart symptoms worsened and the amount of blood my heart was pumping quickly decreased to heart failure levels. That means I had to immediately stop the medication. The good news, my heart would recover with time. The bad news, is that without the medication, the protein HER2 is then able overproduced and excel cancer growth. I was off of my medication for 4 months and we got my heart just good enough to restart treatment back up. My heart has been fine since and is actually getting stronger with every heart scan I get! We just pray it continues to stay this way.
3. Couple’s Cruise: 2018 edition
For the second year in a row, we joined our friends on a couple’s cruise! I truly believe that marriages need rejuvenation and the best way to do that is time alone. It’s so nice to get away from the hustle of life, the cancer life, the kid life, the work life, the house cleaning life and all the other stressors of life! This year we visited Jamaica, the Grand Cayman and Cozumel. Talk about Heaven on Earth! If you know me, you know I loveeee the beach and ocean. I think it is one of God’s most beautiful masterpieces. I feel like my head just automatically clears and I am made new. We did so many fun and exciting things! We kayaked in the ocean, went snorkeling, danced until the wee hours of the night, ate pizza past midnight, laid out, had fruity drinks, found seashells, went snorkeling, had fish give us a pedicure, drove dune buggy’s, explored the Mayans ruins and even slept in.
4. Walked Away
The beach cure only lasts for a short time and soon enough it was time to face reality again. I had been on staff at my church for 2 years. Spiritual warfare is no joke when you are doing God’s work. The devil is there at every turn to deter you from spreading the Word. I was not new to leadership roles, but I was new to Christian ministry’s leadership. Ministry was tough and as time went on, it started to wear me down. 2018 was the year I decided to remind myself who God says I am and not who other people want to make me believe. As hard as I tried the first couple months of the year, the devil kept whispering in my ear that I wasn’t good enough, wasn’t qualified enough, wasn’t smart enough and wasn’t loved enough. Satan used so many people to break me down until I felt like there was nothing left of me. Two years ago, my cup was so full that it overflowed love for myself, my community and my Savior. But then there I was just a few months into 2018 and God felt so far away and my cup was empty. I was trying everything to understand all of the chaos. I read passages, studied books, did devotions, read more books, talked to elders, talked to mentors, prayed, cried and handed it all over. I did everything except be still. It wasn’t an easy decision to make, but, looking back it was one of the best of 2018. I walked away from ministry. Even my therapist can see such a huge difference in my demeanor and the way I express myself. Now, walking away from ministry has not been easy at all. I admit, I miss so much about it. I know God will call me back into ministry again one day, but I also admit that I am not ready for that right now. I need some soul mending first.
After being off of my medication for two months, I started having weird symptoms. It really started happening on the cruise, but I thought maybe between travel and sea legs, it would explain everything. About a week after we got home, Steve mentioned to me that I was sleeping way more than normal. I also noticed I had an unquenchable thirst and could not stop peeing. Google MD at 3:00am had me convinced I had diabetes. Another week and I noticed that I was feeling really “cloudy”, is the best way I could describe it. I was slurring speech and just felt like nothing I thought could come out of my mouth straight. I figured I would wait to see my oncologist and report everything to her because I didn’t think anything was too severe but, boy, was I wrong. I went in for some pre-op blood work and within 24 hours was in the hospital because my blood calcium level was nearing 14, which is lethal. Every symptom I was experiencing was my body telling me it had way too much calcium in it. I went to the hospital every day for almost three weeks straight trying to lower my calcium levels. I needed hours of fluids and medications each day and they very slowly returned to normal levels. But, we had to know where this calcium was coming from and my oncologist feared it was cancer related. Her brilliant mind was right. I was sent for a bone scan and just within the 4 months that I was without my treatment, we found new spots of cancer in my hips and sternum. We knew that I needed to go back onto my treatment immediately. I went from being able to go 4 weeks in between treatment and 6 months in between my bone treatments (because I was no evidence of active disease in my body, including bones for almost 2 years) to going back to a stricter regiment of every 21 days for both of the medication. My last bone scan didn’t reveal any spots on my sternum and my hip areas are slowly decreasing. I also had my yearly colonoscopy because last year, I had very large pre-cancer polyps that needed removed. My super-awesome doc reported that I had some very small okay-looking polyps and can go back to every other year for colonoscopies. THANK GOD! I seriously despise that test. Thankfully, I still do not show any active disease in my other organs on my scans!
6. Bye, Bye Ovaries
One thing with having the genetic mutation, Li Fraumeni Syndrome, is that I had a 100% chance of developing breast cancer in my lifetime and I also run the risk of developing secondary or more primary cancers as well. There are cancers that are of greater concern and more likely to develop, like colon cancer, brain cancer, leukemia, sarcomas, and even ovarian. So, I have to maintain a strict clinical protocol to try and “catch” the cancers before the develop. One thing I decided to do was have an oophorectomy, which is the removal of my ovaries and Fallopian tubes. After Stephen was born, they had to remove my uterus in order to save our lives and my ovaries still functioned up until I had chemotherapy. I ended up in a chemo induced menopause. My ovaries were still functioning, albeit very, very low, so we never discussed surgery up until now. Once a typical pre-menopausal woman has their ovaries removed and goes into full blown menopause, their heart and bone health significantly decrease over the first 10 years. This means the chances for heart attack or osteoporosis increase. The thing with ovarian cancer is that it is known as the silent killer because it is so difficult to detect in the early stages. Only 19% of ovarian cancer is found early and it is now believed that the cancer cells actually originate in the Fallopian tubes. Something just told me though, that I needed to have this surgery done this year. So once my calcium levels normalized, I scheduled the surgery. My gynecologist said that the surgery was a little difficult and my Fallopian tubes looked abnormal and they sent everything off to be biopsied. My gynecologist is seriously the coolest dude in the world. He was leaving to go to California and gave me his cell phone number so that if any issues arose, night or day, I could call him. And in typical Kate fashion, they did. Within a few days of surgery, I ended up with a severe infection at the surgical sight. I was back and forth at the ER, trying all kinds of medications and nothing was working. At one point, I started bleeding pretty significantly from the site and was then admitted to the hospital. After a ton a of tests, we found out that I had a gastrointestinal bacterial infection somehow. I spent about a week in the hospital recovering from the infection. When I went for my follow up appointment, my gynecologist explained that they found serous tubal intraepithelial carcinoma through my Fallopian tubes. If left untreated, would have developed into a lethal high grade ovarian cancer. When your doctor tells you that he is so glad you made the choice to have surgery, it’s a good day. I was referred to see a gynecological oncologist as per protocol. She also reiterated that if I had not had this surgery, the outcome would have been grim. Since my doctor removed all abnormal cells and my ovaries, she explained that there was no need for any additional chemotherapy or even follow up with her. One less doctor for 2018: check!
7. Inheritance of Hope Trip
Around Shannon’s birthday, I got a phone call from a wonderful woman named Cheri. Cheri volunteered for an organization, Inheritance of Hope, whose mission it is to inspire hope in young families who has a parent facing a terminal diagnosis by gifting a fully funded retreat. Cheri told me that we were nominated and chosen to attend their “Legacy Retreat” to Orlando and visit Disneyworld, Universal Studios AND Seaworld! Like, are you kidding me?! I was ECSTATIC! I have never been to Universal and it was on my bucket list along with the trip to Seaworld. I didn’t really know what to expect with the trip, but let me tell you, it wasn’t just a retreat- it soothed my aching soul like nothing I have ever experienced. IoH is a faith based organization, although they serve any & all faiths and backgrounds. When we arrived, there were 390370233 volunteers just waiting to dote over us! We arrived into a sea of welcoming hugs, high fives and beautiful smiles. Each family was given two volunteers and we had two of the best: Judy & Rose. Your volunteers were there for anything you needed, and I mean anything. Our kids immediately took to Rose and Judy. It was as if they were friends we’ve known for years. I admit, it was a little tough to get used to someone you didn’t know just wanting to help you with no string attached. Just genuinely there to serve you just as Mary & Martha did to Jesus. In the mornings, we had breakout sessions where we were grouped with other couples who faced a similar diagnosis as you. It was the first time I was in a face-to-face support group setting since Shannon died. I met the most amazing women and their hubby’s. I was afraid of how the group would work at first because I have never had much luck in support groups, but it ended up being one of the best parts. We rode every single ride at Disney that we wanted and had such an amazing time! Kendra Scott teams up with IoH to provide these retreats for families after her friend, Holley, died of metastatic breast cancer. Kendra has a “color bar” at one dinner where each one of the kids and Steve picked out a piece of jewelry for themselves or for me! Universal was everything I imagined it would be. We had the best time there. My mom and dad gave each one of the kids money to buy their own Harry Potter wands and it was seriously the coolest experience! Steve and I left early and the IoH team sent us to a hibachi dinner and our two new friends took Grace, Lily & SJ around the rest of the night at Universal. After we got back, volunteers had camera’s set up so we could record a “legacy” video. The video could have been about anything you wanted but was to serve as an opportunity for your family to look back on one day after you are gone and have a treasured keepsake. I cannot reveal to many things about the trip, because they will spoil the surprise for new families, but it was just life changing. I hadn’t cried that many happy/joy/sad tears in a very long time. I came home with a new sense of being more intentional with my life. I have tried since to ensure I leave behind more memories, whether it be record videos, be in more pictures or even just say more “I love you’s”. #beintentional
I know a lot of moms loathe the idea of summer, but I can’t wait for it. The kids and I create a bucket list every summer and have fun checking things off of our board. We did a ton of awesome things this summer and we didn’t have any cancer worries. The twins completed 4th grade and SJ moved on from second. They all had such a great school year with amazing teachers. I could not have asked for more! We spent a lot of time in our pool. The girls moved to a new softball league and had such a great season. They both improved so much. We hung out with our friends going to Idlewild, Kennywood and our first time at Sandcastle! We caught a couple drive in movies, went to a Taylor Swift concert and explored downtown Pittsburgh! One of the best trips was up to our friend’s camp near Clarion, with no WiFi. We spent the whole time outside, in the sun and in the water. We had a fishing competition where prizes were awarded for most fish caught, least fish caught, prettiest fish, ugliest fish, biggest fish and smallest fish. Safe to say that we all won. The twins turned double digits and for their birthday they were given a room make over! I could not even believe they were 10. It seems like just yesterday they were itty bitty babies. My Dad also celebrated a big birthday- 70! He was born on the 4th of July and we had a big party for him this year. Stephen had his brain MRI to check his brain and we found out that he actually has a brain aneurysm. There’s not too much to be concerned with until he is around 15 and then we have to minor it more closely. I ended the summer with a broken foot just because my bones are weakened from all the fun cancer stuff but we really did have a great summer.
9. The house that built
My parents made a big move this summer… right up the street from me. I was feeling pretty nostalgic and was shedding a tear or two over the house that built me. As we were packing up, I couldn’t help but think about the house. My Daddy built the house for my Mom, nail by nail, board by board. My Mom and Daddy’s dream came true in that house. My hand prints are on the concrete out back. My favorite dog is burried in the back yard. I screwed up a lot in that house, but experineced some of the greatest love. I drove there every day after Shannon died and crawled into bed with my Mom. The new house though, that will be where my kids experince all of those things. Having my aprents 3 minutes up the road has been great. We have dinner every week together, we drive up numerous times a week to hang out and even moved the chickens up to their back yard. We will create new memories in this house. Home is wherever we are all together.
10. The ending
The ending is always the best, right? December has just been a great month all around. SJ turned 9, which is a miracle in and of itself. We even had a fundraiser to celebrate and raised $900 for Project Sweet Peas. I was healthy and Santa was good to us all. This was definitely one of the best Christmases we have had as a little family. And it had nothing to do with the presents under the tree and everything to do with all of the memories we made. My very last treatment of 2018 was the 100th treatment I have had since I was diagnosed. I never thought I would ever be around to have 20 treatments let alone 100. I pray I can share the next 100.
2018 has just been a chapter of our lives and I am glad to see it come to end and excited for this new chapter of our lives to start. A new year is a clean slate & fresh start and it’s just what I have been needing. I need to remember, I only have one life and need to live it no matter what. Here’s to 2018, the good, the bad and the crazy…and here’s to 2019- hoping it is blessed with more of God, less of cancer and filled with amazing memories.