Cancer. It’s something that I know a thing or two about having gone through the journey not once, but twice. And as much as it’s something that I talk about often in my personal life, I don’t often write about it here on my blog. Today is an exception. In combination with a recent health scare I experienced in the last few weeks (read more below), as well as an incredibly fun event I was honored to attend, I felt the desire to open up a bit about the “Big C”. While my focus here at Cowgirls & Collard Greens is generally health, wellness and plant based foods, I owe it to (breast) cancer for getting me here in the first place. It was cancer that served as the catalyst for me to go vegan so I only owe “it” due respect to share the limelight every now and again, right?
Just a few weeks ago I went to my local hospital for a yearly MRI (that’s me in the photo above rocking my pink hospital gown and heart sunglasses). What should be just “routine” has turned into the scariest day of the year for me. Not only am I afraid of needles (this scan requires me to have an IV), but overall it’s just not a fun process. I think the hardest part about having to go back every year for the tests is that it serves as a reminder that I had cancer and with that, some pretty challenging memories.
I expected the hospital to call me the following day with good news just as they have done for the past five years. But this year was different. I received a call that there was an “area of concern” in my breast that previously had never been affected by cancer. The following day I returned to the hospital for more tests which were inconclusive. As it would turn out, I needed another MRI and a biopsy.
Because of a trip I had planned and the hospitals schedule, I wasn’t able to return to the hospital for the biopsy for over two weeks. It was an incredibly trying time waiting for the results…trying to think positive all the while being gone on a trip and knowing I was awaiting an uncomfortable procedure. Once I returned home from my travels, the procedure was performed and the next day I received the GOOD NEWS that the “area of concern” was not cancer. Phew! I’ve been counting my blessings ever since; I simply cannot imagine having to go through the journey of treating cancer a third time. The whole process as long and drawn out and scary as it was, did serve an important purpose. It reminded me that I am still very much alive, that I still have much left to do with my time here, and that I am still dedicated to share my story in hopes of inspiring others in health (not to mention to continue my mission to help animals and the planet at the same time). So I officially have another year (down) in the books of being cancer free and I plan to keep it that way!
And more uplifting cancer related news…this time having to do with boys on bicycles. What?
If you’re fortunate enough like me to have survived, or I like to call it, “thrived”, after a cancer diagnosis, you might find yourself amazed at the incredible opportunities that show up as a result. Every single friend of mine who has had cancer has gone on to do great things. One of my friends decided she wanted to work in the medical field so she could help others after having breast cancer so she went back to school in her 50’s to become a medical assistant. Another friend of mine went on to write children’s books specifically to help children with cancer and yet another friend left her longtime career as a teacher to pursue her dreams in acting. You see, there is an inherent and inevitable gift that comes from overcoming or living through a life-threatening illness or likely anything that’s life altering I’d imagine. I am in constant awe of the many profound gifts and teachings that have shown up as a direct result of undergoing what some would call chaos and others would refer to as a meandering muse.
Looking back, I’m surprised at the number of events I have been invited to, the public appearances I have been asked to make, as well as the many incredible organizations and companies that I’ve partnered with to share my experience. One word comes to mind: humbled. Unless you are a psychic, I bet you wouldn’t have imagined that you would be in the place that you are today. None of us would. And on that note, I would have never guessed that I would have undergone five surgeries, four rounds of chemotherapy, six weeks of radiation and countless alternative treatments for breast cancer all before my mid-thirties. Bald head, wigs, scars and mastectomies aside, I am grateful– grateful for the struggles and for the amazing rainbows (and unicorns) that appeared along my journey to encourage and guide me.
The Amgen Tour of California is just one of the many events that I have had the good fortune of being asked to be a part of simply because I am a “survivor”. Last month I was invited to be the featured Cancer Survivor as part of Break Away from Cancer at the start of Stage 2 (right here in beautiful downtown Nevada City, California) of the annual bike race, a race that is considered to be the country’s most prestigious and professional when it comes to cycling; it’s like California’s own little Tour de France. The road bike race lasts 8 days and consists of 724 miles from Northern California to Southern. While I don’t consider myself to be an athlete or even follow sports of any kind, I was honored to be a small part of this big event. It may seem a little strange that someone like me who has been at odds with allopathic medicine since the time of my diagnosis in 2008, would be involved with such an event. After all, Amgen is a biopharmaceutical company (in other words a big pharma and also a cancer drug). And while I endured my fair share of cancer drugs, I preferred my meditations along the Yuba River and my green juice to any allopathic remedy. I am not one of those survivors that attends breast cancer walks, purchases kitchen gadgets adorned with pink ribbons or who even donates on behalf of cancer research. Those things just don’t resonate with me. Why did I accept the position of honoree? Simply because it gave me an opportunity to share. To connect. To reach out and thank my community– the very community that supported me during such a challenging time of my life. It also gave me a platform to share my story as well as make some plugs for plant based diets. Yup, you heard that right– veganism made an appearance (if only I could have counted the number of times I mentioned being vegan and eating a plant based diet) during my public interview from the stage! I definitely made a case for the power of plants.
While I cannot tell you who won the race or even the names of the many famous racers that I met before I shot off the starting gun that day (perhaps I should pay more attention to cycling because there were an awfully lot of good looking men in tight pants!), what I do know is that I had an incredible time. It was an honor to be a part of the event and to see so much excitement going on in my small town.
I had the good fortune of running into friend and local radio show host, Tom Fitzsimmons of KNCO Radio at the Amgen Tour who took a few minutes to interview me on the street before the race got underway. You can listen to the short interview below. And if you liked what you heard, I will be back on KNCO Radio, this time in their Grass Valley, California studio this coming Friday, June 26th at 1:00pm PST and you can tune in live at www.knco.com. I will be talking all things cancer, vegan, cowgirl and everything in between.
I know today’s post was long and unusual. Thanks for allowing me to open up in this space and to share on a more personal level. I’ll likely go back to my “regularly scheduled” blog posts next week, but don’t be surprised if there are subtle hints of my own experiences peppered throughout future posts.
Special thanks goes out to KNCO Radio, The Union newspaper, Amgen Tour of California as well as Breakaway from Cancer for allowing me to share my story and journey from illness back to health and for honoring me for the process. And also to those docs and nurses at Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital who did their very best to be gentle and kind with me during those invasive tests in the last few weeks.
Yeehaw, Kayle xo