I know I have not been keeping up on my blog but I needed some time as I am settling into the new chapter of my life. I am feeling great and I am ready to share my story with you and how I came my current lifestyle of positive, healthy eating and living. I definitely have not always eaten well or taken care of myself physically, emotionally and spiritually but once I implemented changes and stuck with them my life changed.
It is not easy for me to share everything that I have been through. I love talking just ask anybody that knows me but some of these details are painful. It is through this pain and suffering that I have learned a lot about the woman that I am and am becoming. These are the lessons that when they happened seemed like tragic jokes from the source but I no longer see them as such. So, enough prefacing here you go.
In 2000 I was living with my husband then boyfriend & later fiance, Paul, in West Los Angeles. I went to the beach everyday, loved my job and was working hard to get a promotion into a position that I really wanted. I received a phone call from my father telling me that my oldest sister, Sue, a single mother, had cancer. I did not know what to do or think so I went to the beach, stood in the ocean just up to my ankles and stared out to the horizon with tears streaming down my cheeks. I remember taking a deep breathe of gloriously, salty air and realizing that there was more to this life than what I knew and what I did know had just been rocked. I went home and made a few phone calls. One of them was to Sue. She was upbeat and reassuring on the phone. I trusted that because she was a nurse. From that night on we made sure to speak on the phone at least once a week with the agreement that any changes in her condition warranted a phone call to me by somebody. It was a strange time because she and I had never really been close. There was an almost 25 year age difference between us. She had made it clear as I got older that she loved me and was proud of me. Especially proud of the fact that I finished college, left my hometown and was making a life with a man that I adored and whom adored me. Paul and I had gotten engaged and I was on track for that promotion. As Paul and I planned our wedding and I prepared to get that new position at work there was a lot going on with her that I did not know. Every time we spoke she sounded good, positive and never told me that things with her health were going downhill fast. In 2000 the wedding plans were coming together, well, mostly the honeymoon plans were coming together. We wanted a big honeymoon and tiny wedding. My dress was purchased and I got the job. I was on cloud nine. The day I was offered the promotion and accepted it I received a call telling me how sick Sue was and that I really had to move back if I wanted to see her alive and that the family needed my help. I was overwhelmed with all kinds of emotions and I was confused. What do I do? Paul came home and took one look at me and asked what was going on. I did not want to tell him. I had no idea what he would do when I said I had to move back. We had both said we would never move back and we meant it. We loved living in LA. I did tell him and he held me and shed a few tears himself. We talked about our options which I did not see any for myself. After about 30 minutes he looked into my eyes and just said "ok". So with that the decision was made. I went to work the next day and had to turn down the promotion and gave my two weeks notice. We left LA in July 2001 and headed back to our hometown in the midwest. I was shocked when I saw my sister. I had no real idea about what to expect but I was not prepared for what I was walking into. She passed on in September 2001 just two months after we got back in town. I was grateful for the time I was able to spend with her even though seeing her in the condition she was in will forever be a tragedy inprinted in my mind and heart. I was grateful when she died. It felt wrong in some ways to feel that way but it was because she was suffering so much that I was grateful for her freedom and for ours not having to deal with that everyday. My family was in shock and we did not handle things as well as we could have but we had never dealt with death like this, so close. I think we did the best we could at the time with what we knew. In 2002 Paul and I bought a house and got married. We were desperate to move back to the west coast but it just seemed out of reach for all kinds of reasons, lack of jobs, finances, etc. We were stuck and trying to figure it all out. I was still grieving but so happy to be marrying the man I loved dare I say the man of my dreams. We had given up the wedding ideas and plans we had made to fit the fact that we were back in the midwest. Everything was different and not as we had planned. We were not satisfied or comfortable but we were managing or so we thought. Paul enrolled in school for an IT program. This did not make sense to me and I was not happy about it. I asked him why and he told me he had to take care of me and since music was not paying off yet he felt like he had to go back to school. He hated it, I hated it but he did it and graduated only to never land an IT job. Some friends packed up and moved to Oregon. They spoke about it highly and seemed to be doing well there so in 2005 we decided to visit. LOVE happened that week. We were like teenagers on an unchaperoned vacation. We did not want to leave and agreed that it felt like home. So with that in our hearts we decided we would move there and when we got back to the midwest we told our families and friends that we were moving to Oregon, got a real estate agent and picked a date to put the house on the market. The month we had chosen became chaotic. My father ended up in the hospital and was diagnosed with congestive heart failure. I am a daddy's girl. My father was my hero. This was a new nightmare and I had no idea what this meant. I called our agent and postponed everythinging indefinately. I was waiting for Paul to crack. He did not at least not that I am aware of. To love me meant loving my dad and luckily Paul and he did love each other. My father's health was in limbo for several months. I was scared to death for him. He never seemed to take it seriously which was terrifying and assuring. Eventually things seemed to level out for my dad and he was back to his over doing it, positive ways. He was not the type to sit on the porch in a rocking chair and get old. So we rang up the agent and set another date for February 2007. I was busy making repairs around the house or having them done and we did a big repair project together which turned out to be fun. I was getting sick though, a lot. It was not unusual for me to get sinus infections several times a year. That became my norm over the years along with headaches. Headaches all of the time in varying degrees of severity. I saw doctors and they gave me antibiotics which I hated. It seemed different this time. Sinus symptoms, check but the headaches were worse and constant. So, I went to a few different specialists. I have a deviated septum contributing to the sinus issues and many allergies too. I started getting allergy shots weekly and had an open prescription for steroid nasal sprays. What about the headaches I mean I was downing Tylenol like candy often with no relief. Migraines, the only plausible diagnosis I thought. So, I went off to the doctor and he agreed. I left with a script for migraine meds. I hated them. I have never dropped acid but if it was like I imagined and what I had heard the migraine meds had a similar effect on me. They seemed to help a little though. In mid February I got one of these headaches and nothing offered relief for two weeks. I finally had Paul take me to the ER for what I believed was a never ending migraine. When I was seen that is what I told them and based on my symptoms they agreed. I received some shot and was out for a few minutes but felt a little better so I was released. We drove home and I felt sick to my stomach. I went upstairs to bed. I was miserable with pain. I woke up the next morning in the same condition. That evening we were back in the ER. I received another shot for migraines and was released. I remember feeling like I was drunk and ready to pass out in the parking lot. I just wanted to go home. The next series of events are what has been told to me as I have no recollection of them. Paul got me home but thought it was odd that when I was trying to get in the car at the hospital I was reaching for the door handle several inches from the actual door. I went right upstairs at home, I said to go to the bathroom, and after ten minutes Paul called my name but I did not answer. He came upstairs to check on me and found me unconscious on the bathroom floor being watched over by our two cats. He called some of my family and 911. When the ambulance arrived they did not want to take me because they saw a bottle of Hydrocodone on my nightstand and assumed I had overdosed. Paul told them to count the pills because I had not taken any of them. They did take me along and that bottle of pills which were not seen again. This time in the ER I went into convulsions and remained unconscious. A scan of my brain was done and it showed a mass. My family and friends were in the waiting room. They were told that there was a mass in my brain and they did not know what it was yet. It turned out to be a rare bacterial brain abscess. There was no time to wait for the culture to return, surgery had to be performed to keep me alive. And with that I had brain surgery. It went well. I was unconscious for days. I will let you in on a fact about that. An unconscious person can hear the things you say. I do remember my friends talking about a little,furry animal from Africa and I knew they were talking about merekats so I blurted that word out but was still unconscious. I guess they were not to freaked out because I was playing thumb wars with Paul too. Anyway, I woke up several days later and the first things I saw were the bars of the hospital bed and through them my parents, Paul's mom and a few other family members. I remember thinking where the hell am I and why are they all here staring at me. I asked what was going on and was asked what was the last thing I remembered? I was told what went on but it did not register. I did not understand. I saw mouths moving and heard sounds but it didn't make sense so I just laid there in the hospital bed. I had no energy at all. My body just felt heavy. I just wanted Paul. As the days passed people would come see me but I still did not understand what had happened or what was going on. Paul always had a smile on his face and acted like it was all ok so I went with that. The day finally arrived when I was a little more with it and I wanted to comb my hair. I grabbed for the comb on the nightstand and realized that something was really wrong with my left side but I got it with my right hand. I started combing my hair on the right side and a nurse walked in and scared the crap out of me by yelling at me to stop combing my hair. She looked at me and told me that I was not able to do that. I was totally confused. She saw that and she said "you do not know what has happened to you do you?" "No, I don't. I would like someone to explain it." She told me to put my right hand up to the the front right side of my head and asked me what I felt. My hair was gone and there was something rough. She told me that I had brain surgery and could not touch my head and then called for the doctor. After several docs stopped in to talk to me I kinda got the picture. I had brain surgery to remove an abscess, whatever that was, and it was deep in the brain so while the surgery was a success I would have stroke like symptoms that might not get better. This meant no control of the left side of my body especially in my hand and foot and face. Nerve damage causing the pins and needles feeling throughout and slurred speech. Oh, yeah this also meant I could not walk or stand on my own. What the F***! I went to physical, occupational and speech therapy in the hospital for about three weeks. I got stronger. I was determined. I had just turned 34 and we had plans to move to Oregon. This was not going to get in the way. When Paul was in my room with me I felt this way. I still do not know how he held it together. I asked him one day how he knew I was going to be ok and he smiled big and said, "I see it in your eyes everyday". I believed him. I did not want to let him down, let us down, so for him I pushed hard through everyday. It was not easy. It was extremely frustrating especially relearning to walk. I was in the hospital for one month before I was released. I suffered several set backs while I was there but my husband keep me believing that it was going to be ok. We had to cancel putting the house up for sale, again. I felt so guilty. I had months and months of all three therapies as well as IV antibiotics and several other drugs, 41 in all. I required assistance with everything. Paul had to be a caregiver. My young, talented husband was forced to take care of his wife as I were an old, disabled woman. I felt such guilt and depression. He never said or did anything to ignite these feelings, quite the opposite. He was my husband and he was doing his job. He was taking care of me and doing an amazing job. It was not smooth sailing for, well, years but I did eventually recover. I still deal with some "small" issues but nothing I can't manage. So, as I am getting better something starts going on with Paul. He had gained a significant amount of weight, we both had, after moving back to the midwest. He was stressed at work, home too, even though he never said that, and he was having unbelievable back pain all of the time. A few other things started going wrong that were not things he had ever dealt with. Then the day came when he was in unbearable pain. So much so that he was crying. This scared me because I had not really seen him cry like that before. I took him to the ER. Kidney stones were found but so was something else and we would need to follow up with our primary doc about it on Monday. The appointment was already made. I understood that this was serious. The scans revealed lesions on the liver. Paul was in so much pain that I do not think he really understood what was being presented. Interestingly in the month or two leading up to this Paul had started doing power yoga again, being more physically active and eating a little less junk food. He lost about 40 pounds. He was pretty proud. He passed the stone that weekend and we went to see our primary doctor Monday. The lesions were suspicious and coupled with the back pain and recent weight loss it did not look good. We had an appointment with a doctor upstairs. I lost my breathe hearing that because I knew what offices were up there. Oncology offices. Paul had no idea and I knew that so I asked our doctor, a man I was very comfortable with, if these lesions could be tumors. He took a breathe, straightened up and said it was very possible and that is why he was referring us to another doctor. I looked at Paul and saw no reaction. I think he was in shock. We left his office and got on the elevator to go upstairs. As the doors opened and the word Cancer was in front of us on the wall I wanted to throw up and Paul squeezed my hand, stopped and said "Keri, do I have cancer"? I tried with every molecule in my body not cry at that moment and looked at him and said "I don't know".
Yes, he did have cancer and the liver tumors were not primaries meaning that the cancer had already spread from its' original site. This was bad. The next several weeks were chaotic with scans, biopsies, tests of all kinds in an attempted to locate the primary source of the cancer. The oncologist during this time was cold. She offered not one glimmer of hope or compassion. This was not the person we required. We did get the final diagnosis and her prognosis. It was stage IV adenocarcinoma of the pancreas with multiple mets to the liver. He was given three to six months to live. This prognosis was not communicated to him but handed to me as a computer printout by a nurse while I waited for him to get a blood draw. I stuffed it in my purse and hid it at home. I was not going to tell him that. I did not want that in his mind. We had a lot of work to do and he had to be strong and courageous. We spent the next few weeks deciding our next steps. Number one, get a new oncologist and a Naturopath. Number two, change everything about how we eat and our lifestyle. For perspective we ate out just about every night. Neither of us ate breakfast. Red Bull was his breakfast and a 32 ounce soda was mine. Lunch was some kind of local fast food place or leftovers from dinner out the night before. I did not know how to cook really. I joked that a kitchen was a waste of space in my home and that it did not matter what it was like. I would later regret those words and thoughts. I could make Mac n' Cheese with peas and tuna for him. I was a vegetarian, an uneducated junk food vegetarian. I also made pasta but that was it. Fresh veggies and fruit, sometimes, all usually conventional because organic was too expensive. We drank, alot. We loved our beer. Paul more than me but I definitely held my own at the bar. However, since my illness I had not had a drink. Mentally we had lots to deal with. Paul jumped into this right away and started confronting his demons. He did it so remarkably that I almost did not know him. He calmed down, was not as angry which was a side of himself that only a few people were aware existed, he was positive about everything. He started taking T'ai Chi, Qi Gong and even writing and painting classes with me. We both got published from that class and our paintings are hanging in my apartment. He began working on on his solo music project. The one he never had time for previously. He finished it in 2008 while in treatment. We gave up excuses why not, said affirmations, found a spiritual path in the Zen Buddhist teachings of Thich Nhat Hahn and I learned to cook and shop for real, whole, organic foods. We received a huge nutrition education and we experienced life changing/saving results. We traveled, started skateboarding (me not so well), living our lives as we saw fit for us and being happier than ever. Cancer sucks but you can change it. It is just like with normal life; it is up to you, your responsibility. You can follow the stereotype or you can say screw that and make your own template. That is what we did and I am grateful every day that I open my eyes for the experiences that I have had because they have set me on my path and shown me my purpose. They have put me in touch with myself and with the beauty of life even through suffering.
In 2009 my father, Paul's maternal gandpa and a good friend of mine passed on and on July 7, 2010 Paul joined them. It has been almost two years since he died and it stings just as much now as it did a year ago but my life is good. He is free. All of them are. Their energies have been reborn as they completed the circle of life in the physical world.
I could easily sink but that honors nobody including myself. I share my story as one of inspiration. You are stronger than you know. It is true that you never know what tomorrow will bring so live fully today. Take care of yourself, no excuses. When you fall push yourself back up. Love deeply, Live like you mean it and damn it enjoy yourself!!!