Posts Tagged ‘cancer’

i’ve lost a friend

August 4, 2011

When I started this blog 19 months ago, I didn’t know Nick Ryan. But as I began my quest for fitness and health, he became my trainer and eventually my friend.

Two and a half weeks ago he and some friends were hiking up in Montana. As their yearly trips went, this was not even dangerous, yet his amazing life was cut short from a fall.

I’m still trying to wrap my mind around this. It’s one of those inexplicable tragedies in life that seem so absolutely wrong.

Over the last few days, my husband and I have been watching Shark Week on Discovery Channel. The people in these shows are risking life and limb, literally, to film, and yet aren’t killed by their serious risk-taking choices. Nick, on the other hand, was just out with his friends hiking one minute and gone the next.

I’ve wrestled with God and asked questions about the seeming lack of fairness of it all, yet have to quiet my heart, and say, “You are God and hold our lives and times in your hands.” My heart aches, not only for my loss, but for Nick’s wife and two little girls who have lost a terrific man, husband and father.

I wasn’t able to attend Nick’s funeral, so wrote a brief tribute to honor him and his impact on my life. Here it is:

A Tribute to Nick

I first met Nick in January of 2010.

A friend of mine had begun working out at Fitness Together in October 2009, and I saw such changes in her that it gave me my first glimmer of hope in nearly six years.

I’m a two time breast cancer survivor. The second cancer experience left me physically very weak with a serious lack of balance, in addition to 50 extra pounds due to many drugs and lack of activity. I didn’t look like myself to me and I didn’t feel like myself either. I had become so discouraged with my situation, I thought, “I fought off cancer twice to live in a body that was hi-jacked by cancer and now doesn’t even look like the me I remember before cancer?!”

Dieting and exercise didn’t effect much change for me and I lost hope that my body could ever become strong and active. My heart was damaged by the chemotherapy and my lungs were damaged from the pneumonia. My balance was off for 7 long months from some unexplained inner ear malady that left me unable to drive or look at any movement without feeling severe nausea.

My upper body lacked physical strength from lack of use, but also from my chest muscles being “messed with” due to my radical bilateral mastectomy. I was in terrible shape and I felt old and worn out and weary.

That’s the Kris Beauchamp that walked into Fitness Together seeking help in January 2010. Although looking back, I was hoping for a miracle but Nick wasn’t going to promise me one! I was hoping I could get in and outta there in 2 or 3 months. He was gracious not to laugh or roll his eyes, but he told me realistically that it was going to be a longer commitment than that.

I remember feeling embarrassed and ashamed of my fat body and horrified that he had to weigh and measure me. If it hadn’t been for my friend’s success I might never have gone back after those numbers were written down!

I’d go in, very quietly and do whatever was asked, thinking I was going to pass out from oxygen deprivation or hyperventilation, but he always pressed me just to the point I thought I couldn’t achieve and right before I’d pass out he’d let me stop! Nick got me to do more than I thought I could; more than I would have ever done on my own.

Nick was positive and encouraging. Always ready with a bright, friendly smile.

He took me where I was – didn’t make me feel ashamed for letting my body get in the situation it was in and looked at the facts and asked me where I wanted to be in 6 months or 12 or 24!

Initially I wanted to be able to enjoy life with my family. I wanted to lose some weight to feel comfortable again. I wanted to be alive for my future grandkids and be able to get down on the floor to play with them and be able to get back up again afterward too! Seriously. Once down on the floor, I couldn’t get up again by myself! That’s how weak I was!

I progressed ever so gradually, but Nick was always ready with praise for even the smallest increase of strength. I’d downplay it because of embarrassment and he’d remind me how far I’d actually come. No progress was too small to celebrate.

I’ve gone back and reread several of my blog posts about working out at Fitness Together and was reminded of just how monumental my progress actually was.

I remember telling Nick that I was out walking with my husband up a hill and I could feel a shift. All of a sudden I could breathe deeply, all the way in. I could fill my lungs and it was the best feeling ever! It was the first time in 3 or 4 years that I could completely fill my lungs with air!

I’m not sure, but I think I may be the only person who would ever leave a workout with Nick by thanking him. But I did. Yes, I paid him to work with me and it wasn’t cheap, but I still thanked him for making me a better, stronger, healthier, happier me. He’d tell me I was the one doing the work, but I wouldn’t have been able to do it without him.

At my last workout with Nick, I told him that I’d lost three pounds since my last weigh in (which amounted to a measly half pound a week in my mind). He turned sideways and looking over his left shoulder at me from across the room he grinned, saying with exuberant conviction, “Kris! You are doing it! If you keep doing what you’re doing now, you will reach your goals!”

Nick and I would discuss things I’d blog about relating to weight loss, fitness or nutrition. He’d challenge my thinking and press me to see a different perspective.

One day I wrote about a quote by Horace Mann:

“Be ashamed to die until you have won some victory for humanity.”

I know I’m just me, not a great person in the whole scheme of things, but I’m sure if you asked others, they’d feel the same way: Nick was a person who won a victory for me. He helped me conquer the ravaging effects of cancer in my body to become stronger, healthier and happier. His death is untimely for sure, but there is no shame in it. Nick won a huge victory for me by helping me find my way back to myself, back to even a better place of health and wellness than I ever thought I could.

Nick, I’ll do my best to carry on your legacy of winning some victory for humanity in my world. I’ll miss you, but I’ll do you proud.

Kris

summer joy

June 28, 2010

The flowers in our garden-yard are displaying their glorious colors – a riotous jumble that brings my heart joy. The house wren sings his delightful melody, causing my heart to praise the One who made him! The breeze cools my skin and gratitude wells up from deep within.

I just returned from a bike ride around Zorinsky Lake. What a gorgeous day it is!  I’m so thankful to God for eyes to see the beauty of a shimmering lake; for ears to hear the song of the wrens and a nose to breathe in the captivating aroma of fields awash with purple-pink clover! I’m grateful for a body that can once again pedal and race my way up and down hills as I circumnavigate the lake. It’s fabulous to be alive!

I know it’s been 5 years since my last head-on collision with cancer, but I still marvel at the gift of life every day! Each endowment of 24 hours is time to be treasured. Even as I carry laundry up and down the stairs, or walk to the mailbox without needing an arm to lean on; as I carry in bags of groceries and do the myriad mundane tasks of life, I thank God that I am able to do all these things! I thank him that I’m alive to do them!

I’ve heard it said that life is what you make it. I’ve also heard the saying, “When life hands you lemons, make lemonade.” I really dislike that saying. It’s annoying.  But I think the intended meaning is that no matter what your life circumstances happen to be, there is joy to be found someplace. There is some thing or place or person or little detail that can bring delight to one’s day, regardless of the circumstances. There is joy to be found in each and every day, every season of your life!

medical procession

February 19, 2010

I went for my 6 month appointment with my surgical oncologist yesterday. He practices at UNMC (University of Nebraska Medical Center) which is a teaching hospital. That teaching component is essential for getting the best care, because they are always on the cutting edge of medical progress. (pardon the cutting pun)

I arrived and followed the nurse back to the little examination room. Thankfully it was at the end of the hall and had an entire wall of windows. It was clean and bright and sparse. Since it was a sunny, blue-skied day, I had an enjoyable wait for the doc.

I changed into my little gown (not in front of the windows, duh) and sat on the table reading a magazine, a curtain partitioning me from the door.

After a while, there was a light knock on the door and a muffled voice asked if I’d finished changing. I said I had and the door opened. In walked my doctor, followed by a line of people in white coats! Like a mother duck leading her ducklings each one behind another, it was a medical procession of the medical profession!

I think there were 8 residents, a nurse, the doctor and me! 11 of us in that little room with only a hospital gown between us!

Thankfully they were all respectful and quiet – hanging on to every word spoken.
I didn’t mind their presence as I believe my doctor is the best surgical oncologist in Omaha. I wanted them to glean from his expertise as well as his manner with patients. How else will they learn?

(I was just glad they weren’t all hovering overhead as he did the exam. What a relief!)

Good news was given; my heart was lightened, and now it’s over for another 6 months.

These residents will probably all be full-fledged docs by then and by my next visit there will be a new crew of prodigies following behind the lead man. What a great system!

cancer chatter

February 16, 2010

My daughter and I attended a college preview day Saturday morning at a local school of nursing. We sat through the usual informational details until the last half hour or so when a woman came to discuss the specifics about the required coursework for the different paths a student could take.  She said that when she started out she worked in obstetrics and eventually ended up working with cancer patients. She chuckled as she shared that she started out working to bring life into the world and switched to working with cancer patients, who died. She laughed, saying that must “say something about” her. I’m not sure what that would be, but what it was saying to me was that she hadn’t learned enough about working with cancer patients. She was missing some important knowledge.

My daughter (protectively) was put off by her words and her manner, but I let it slide, knowing that most people make those assumptions. (Although, you’d hope a medical professional might know that death isn’t always the outcome of cancer.) To most people, cancer means death, but it doesn’t always, as I’m living proof.

The session continued and a few minutes later she made another statement along the same vein. I was starting to feel ill at ease because of her insensitivity, knowing there had to be others in the room who have loved ones with cancer or have had a close call themselves, or who were going through the harrowing journey presently. I couldn’t believe that she would be so careless. But I thought, she’s just not thinking and I let it go.

By the third time, I decided I’d need to have a little chat with her. But, after we’d finished taking the campus tour she was no longer in the meeting room.

My daughter and I went out for lunch later to talk about her impressions, thoughts and feelings about the campus and the potential of attending. The topic she wanted to focus on first, though, was the woman and her unwise cancer chatter.

It’s a sad fact that if a person hasn’t endured a tremendous loss or hasn’t suffered from a disease, they can be painfully unaware of the impact their words can have on someone who is suffering. What’s  more disappointing is that someone who has worked with people coping with the invasion of cancer into their bodies and lives, can sum it all up with such ease in a few ill-chosen words.

She could have said something as simple as, “I started working with babies, but changed to work with people who are fighting cancer.”

It seems to be just semantics and someone might think, what’s the big deal, if they haven’t endured that arduous journey. But when you have and have almost lost the fight on more than one occasion, and when it’s been an excruciatingly long, intensely steep, uphill battle just to hang on let alone regain some normalcy and restore a semblance of ‘life before cancer’ (which will never be the same), those words are painful to hear. More than the words, the casual way they are tossed out there, that’s what’s painful. It’s foolish chatter.

In her defense, I’m sure if she had thought for a second that someone like me was listening, she would have been wiser. Unfortunately, we live in a day where many face cancer, so she should always assume there is someone in the audience that is.

When I learned in early 2005 that I’d have to have a radical double mastectomy, Les and I were devastated. One day a woman stopped to chat with Les and asked about me. She said, “At least she won’t be losing anything she needs.”  What is that supposed to mean? Her words stabbed. They were foolish and insensitive. Cancer chatter. Words spoken without thinking. Words uttered without considering the effect they may have.

Some words are better left unspoken.

Another time, a relative called to ‘encourage us’ when he heard I had cancer a second time. He proceeded to tell us about a friend he had who’d had cancer and he “prayed and prayed for her for a long time, but she died. And I’m praying for you too,” he said. (Gee, thanks.) Cancer chatter.

Why is it that when talking about cancer, everyone has a story, and it’s usually bad? It is the greatest insensitivity to go on and on about all the people you’ve known who have died from cancer. How is that helpful? It may make you feel like you have something in common, but it makes the one facing that nightmare feel more stressed and awkward.

My philosophy on cancer chatter is, if you don’t have something positive or uplifting to say, then don’t say it. (That is also a great motto for life that my mother ingrained in me.) There are plenty of other subjects to discuss. Please, tell a person you’re praying for them if you are, but don’t tell them about the many people you’ve prayed for that didn’t make it. They already know enough horror stories. They need that one-in-a-million story that will give them hope, that will lighten their heart and be a breath of fresh air in the midst of the stifling acrid air of the battle-field they’re dragging themselves across.

I remember receiving a letter from a woman in early 2000, not long after I learned I had cancer the first time. She told me about her mother who had gotten cancer as a younger woman but was still alive and well. She’d gotten it in her 30’s and was now in her 80’s! Now that is the kind of story every cancer patient wants to hear! People facing cancer need to hear about someone who fought and won and is now enjoying a long, fruitful life. I still have that card and live with that hope in my heart!

The moral of this real-life story is, when talking about cancer, or speaking to someone who is fighting it, think before you speak. Careless cancer chatter cuts to the core. Even when we don’t mean to, our words can wound. People who are fighting cancer have been hijacked by it. They are victims of an insidious invader. They are real people who have jobs and hobbies and families and hopes and dreams, yet, when they learn they have cancer, they become cancer to others. Suddenly there isn’t anything else to talk about. Sometimes people suffering from cancer just need to forget they have it and talk about anything but cancer. They need to be treated as they were before they learned the awful truth.

It’s probably a good thing that I’m reserved (in public, at least!) I was sorely tempted to raise my hand that morning and tell her I was not appreciating her insensitive cancer chatter. It was unnecessary and it wasn’t funny.

Just for the record, I’ve spent most of the last decade fighting two different kinds of cancer, and now I am a two-time cancer survivor! I want anyone who is facing that dreaded and hated disease to know that there is hope. Cancer doesn’t always mean death! Now that’s something to talk about!

flowers at our feet

January 28, 2010

I was prompted by a quote I ran across to look up its author and find out who he was. His name is Albert Schweitzer. The son of a Lutheran pastor, he became, with dedicated hard work, passion and persistence, a musician, theologian, author, doctor, philosopher, medical missionary and humanitarian possessing a deep reverence for life. Schweitzer accomplished an unbelievable amount in his lifetime and was not only a man with an incredible mind, but used that intellect to care for the world.

Here is the quote that caught my eye:

“In the hope of reaching the moon men fail to see the flowers that blossom at their feet.”

How true this is! In striving for what could be, we can forget to enjoy what is. Being able to do both at the same time is a difficult balancing act, but it isn’t impossible.

How often as a child did I wish to be a grown up!  And as an adult, isn’t it tempting to look back and think how good we had it? It’s easy to fritter our lives away wishing we were someone else, or someplace else or with someone else. But there are flowers at our feet waiting to be noticed.

Cancer forced me to face up to that way of thinking. I realized I may never reach the moon, so I’d better start looking around and finding flowers to be thankful for; to smell and enjoy!

I’ve got a vast field of flowers blooming at my feet! I have a husband who cherishes me and whom I adore, children I’d longed for and who are my delight, faithful friends living in authentic community together, including the church where I love to belong. I have returning vigor and joy and delight in being able to feel the shocking cold air of winter on my face while smiling with satisfaction, knowing that spring will return, and with it the fragrant flowers which will blossom once again, at my feet.

new

January 1, 2010

I love firsts! I got married on June first. We moved into our house on December first.

I especially love today because it is the first day of the first month of a new year and a new decade! Brand new. Fresh.

As I was driving home from work yesterday, I found myself overwhelmed with joy! I can’t explain it! I was by myself in the car and I found myself smiling a broad, silly grin! Then it hit me! I was happy to be alive! I’d made it through the most difficult decade of my life! I was leaving that decade behind!

Ten years ago (Dec. 30, 1999) I was given the news that I had breast cancer. I was 38 and married to my best friend, and we had two young children. I spent New Year’s Eve 1999 agonizing; trying to comprehend what this would mean for me and for my family. While everyone the world over was fearfully awaiting the unknown that Y2K would usher in, I was wondering if I had a future at all. Little did I know that cancer was just the first in a series of horrendous experiences that were yet to become acquaintances of mine during the decade ahead.

So, as I look to 2010, I’m happier than ever to leave the old behind. I have become a stronger, deeper, wiser, and perhaps just a little bit jaded person, but I am a better person because of my life-journey these past 10 years.

I have more compassion and patience. I enjoy the simple, little things that often go unnoticed. I love a sunrise and marvel at the sweet little goldfinches that visit our feeders daily even in freezing weather!

I want to invite you to think about this past decade. What challenges have you faced?  What have you learned? How have you changed?

Are there areas of your life that you’d like to see change this year? As a person, who would you like to become in 2010? What will it take to see those changes occur?

Let’s savor life together, the good and the bad, and purpose to enjoy the little things each day, okay?