In December of 2007 I was diagnosed with Breast Cancer. Somehow I always actually thought that my daily dedication at the gym in the morning, the healthy lifestyle, constant positive attitude and attention to the golden rule I kept worked as some magical cloak around my shoulders that would protect me from things just like this. I couldn’t believe it, the words hit me like a ton of bricks.
Within a week I had a biopsy, and later that week I had a double mastectomy, the layer that was once my chest muscle removed, and the first stage of reconstruction done at the same time of the surgery; which meant placing expanders in between my skin and ribcage which would later be breast implants. I’ve suffered some serious wreckage and broken bones in my day (6 broken collarbones to name a few) but I’ve never in my life experienced pain like the following week brought. I can’t speak or think about it without my eyes welling with tears, kind of pain. Talk about getting knocked of your high horse- I’ve just been leveled.
I had to wait almost a month to begin chemotherapy, in that month I was given another strike from the great umpire of the universe, I started having vision fluctuations in my eyes. I went to the ophthalmologist and he informed me that I had tumors pressing on each retina and that the breast cancer was metastasizing. Within days, I had lost vision completely in my left eye, and could only see wavy lines and spots out of my right eye. Now I was sitting, unable to read, watch TV, read books, or drive in a car as it all made me nauseas. It stayed this way for 6 weeks. This was the point when I really started to freak out, for some reason even with the surgery, it wasn’t until this doctor’s visit that it hit me. I have Cancer.
My ophthalmologist called my specialist immediately. I could hear her loudly moan over the telephone in disbelief, the next day I was taken to the Utah Cancer Center and given a PET/CT scan which can identify and pinpoint cancer throughout your body. I found out I had it everywhere except my brain and my feet. At least I couldthink about how crazy this was, and run out of there! It had completely taken over my eyes, neck, sternum, ribs, lungs, spine, hips, legs, and my liver was swollen to twice its size. They informed me I was a stage 4 cancer patient, with an extremely aggressive and rare form of breast cancer; the worst there was with the smallest percentage of living. I was speechless, and anyone who knows me knows I’m never speechless. After this, I went home to write a will and start goodbye letters to my husband and my family. Okay, this was real. Very real, and I was FU#@ING petrified for the first time in my life.
Around that same time I started having sever pain in my left hip. So much so, that I became in need of a cane to walk. In keeping with my sense of humor, I purchased a carbon fiber cane sword. Yes, the handle was a 21/2-foot stainless steel sword that stealthily hid away in the bottom of the cane. So if I got the chance to joust my cancer, I was ready.
Now I am about 3 weeks into this bizarre experience, and so much has happened that it really is making me wonder if I didn’t just get into a car accident on the way home from work and I’m actually in a coma just dreaming all of this. In less than a month I went from powering full throttle through life, work, and sport, to being a blinded cancer patient hobbling around on a cane! How could this be? I just learned switch front side airs skateboarding, I can’t have cancer!
It was hard for me not to get bummed, really bummed, but for some reason I didn’t. In fact, one of the first things I did when I was told the stage of my cancer was buy Rosetta Stone for French, because I thought it would be a nice use of this time to start on a third language. I’m not saying that when no one was around, I didn’t cry, a lot, because I did, but I never really lost it, and I never really got depressed. Actually cancer was like the crowbar that pried my heart open and let me feel the strongest most wonderful connection with my family, my friends, and God. It enabled me to look past everything I was going through and keep my focus on living through this. It was like life was a car I was driving, and I chose only to look at cancer through the rear view mirror.
Next chapter was chemotherapy, equally a modern marvel of science, and a special delivery straight from the fiery depths of hell. I’d love to pretend it is anything less than that, but it’s not. I was prescribed intensive intravenous chemotherapy, so every 3 weeks I would sit in a lazy boy, stuffed with warm blankets and endless episodes of Lost, while I received 7 hours worth of IV bags. It kills your cells, both healthy and cancerous. It takes you within an inch of your life for about 9 horrible days, and just when you start to feel a little better, it is just in time to go back for your next treatment. Chemo taught me a lot. There’s something about lying in your bed wondering if this unfamiliar feeling your having is you dying that gives a person some time to think and reorganize priorities. It was the ultimate boot camp for survival, patience, faith, and self control. Chemo is bone pain, namely femur pain, nausea, vomiting, fever, cold sweats, muscle cramps and spasms, losing all of your hair, and a constant terrible stomachache. My 5’8” body was coming in at under 110 pounds most of the time, it felt straight extraterrestrial, not Hollywood thin. Every muscle on my entire body, a lifetime of training and sports, is completely gone. Chemo was hell. I wish there was something I could do to make it so that no person gets cancer because Cancer is complete bullshit. If I could be the sacrificial lamb to stop anyone from having to go through any of this ever again, I would do it.
The action sports community in Salt Lake City is extraordinary and I’m so proud to be a part of it. I had a beautiful display of love, support, and friendship. I wish I could enter the lot of them in some humanitarian contest. They would win, hands down. Almost every day, I had an amazing person visit me and bring with them nothing but selflessness and optimism. My sweet mom flew back and forth all the way from New York for every treatment to help us around the house. My amazing husband could write a book on how to do everything 100% right for your wife when she is sick and really needs you. I was given a Mormon blessing by two dear friends, and even though I’m not technically Mormon, I was welcomed in and placed on every prayer list at every church from here to NY. I had friends that had benefits for me and collectively they donated over $22,000 to cancer research organizations in my name. It was an optimism and faith fest, and I was in the center of it, and it made my cancer seem worth something somehow.
May 12 was the date of my last chemotherapy, and I had equal parts excitement and fear. Going in there that morning I imagine must have been something like what the Spartans felt lining up for battle with the Persians in the war of Thermopylae. Day’s prior I had another PET/CT scan to see what the end result of all of these chemotherapies was. I had only expected the cancer count (through blood tests, it is the measure of the cancer concentration in your body) to continue to go down. But when the doctors told me they couldn’t find one trace of cancer on my last scan, he looked shocked. I was in shock. I still am. I graciously accepted his teary eyed hug and the pat on the back for being the only case like these he has ever seen. I guess it’s miraculous, and it’s really hard for my brain to digest. I’m still working on it.
Today it has been only one month since my last chemotherapy. Looking back, there’s only one thing I would have done differently. I detected the lump in my breast after a bad slam on a rail snowboarding at Park City in December of 2006. I immediately went to my general doctor, and continued to do so for a year, with the same complaint. I was told during each visit that I was way to fit, young, and healthy to be concerned. So we just said we’d “watch it”, and “watch it” we did. I watched it turn into the size of a plum, and then turn into a painful and potentially life threatening cancer before anyone took me seriously, because I was young, because I was healthy, and because I was fit. Who chose for 40 to be the magical age where a doctor will order testing for you or your health insurance will even cover it for you? This all should have been prevented. I went early enough for this to be detected.
If I had it to do over I would have forced someone to listen to me, to look at me, to try to help me save my own life before I had to go through everything I did, and come within such a close step of it. Now all I do is receive two drugs, intravenously every 3 weeks for no less than 5 years. I get the PET/CT scan every 3 months to ensure cancer isn’t coming back, and try to figure out how to live now, stress free, and not let myself worry about getting cancer again.
There is an organization called Seventy K which is petitioning for an adolescent and young adult cancer bill of rights. Wherein the #1 statement it makes and defends is “The right to be taken seriously when seeking medical attention to avoid late diagnosis or misdiagnosis, despite age.” Enough said, things would have been different for me if that were a law. iI you feel so inclined please sign your name on their petition at www.seventyk.org.
I’ve just found that It’s not easy to share such personal things in print, but If my story can help someone, in some way, either catching cancer early, forcing your doctor to listen to you, or to console you if you are amidst this struggle, than I am happy to help. I want to help. I’ve written about such a serious thing with such a light heart and an air toward humor, because that is the way I got through this whole mess.
Why does it take something like cancer to make us slow down or just STOP for a minute, enjoy the people around us, enjoy ourselves, and prioritize in accordance to what really is important? To realize the real way we need to live and how to live with those around us. How to take care of our bodies and the way we need to care for our minds. Optimism, faith in God and myself, surrounding myself with wonderful people, and keeping the right thoughts in my mind saved me. Imagine what it can do for you, in your life, every single day.
“Your life is what your thoughts make it” –Marcus Aurelius
Krista Moroge is a young adult cancer survivor from the Pacific Northwest. She is also a Territory Manager for SLKC Sales Agency- Burton, Red, Anon, Analog, Gravis. She is also a volunteer for SeventyK and is currently helping to grow the organization.
Originally posted in June 2008.