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Kayla Redig celebrated as much as she could during her treatment for breast cancer but some days were harder than others. During a difficult time, a time when she felt like doing anything other than celebrating, she created a list of 100 reasons she was thankful for her cancer diagnosis. It became a way to focus her energy on what was ahead, on the friends and family helping her every step of the way, instead of what was happening right then.
Here, she shares some of her favorite entries from that difficult time:
“Cancer kinda sucks. Everything is harder now than when I was first diagnosed. I’ve been caught in a pity party for a few days now and I figured the best way to get out of it was to stop being sad and start being thankful. But that’s hard because … you know what people with cancer think about all of the time? Cancer. There’s so much more to it than you could ever imagine. Right now the only thing curing my body is also destroying it. That takes a toll but I don’t want to just sit around and watch life happening. I must continue to take part in it all.”
“When you’re told that you have a disease that could kill you but will definitely impact the rest of your life, you realize how short and unpredictable life really is. I’m trying to take in all the lessons that cancer has to offer me—lessons on growing up, taking care of myself and letting go of the things that hurt me. One of the biggest is finding the good in the bad, no matter how much I don’t want to. But I know it will be good for me.”
A selection from “100 Reasons I’m Thankful I Was Diagnosed with Cancer”:
Seeing the strength and love of so many of my friends and family. The outpouring of support has been amazing and it’s really neat to see the goodness of so many people. So many have dropped everything without hesitation to be there for me and, I swear, when I am able to again I will do the same for you. You think you know people and then something happens that changes everything; it’s then that you find out who they really are. For the most part, I am blown away by what I’m finding out.
Connecting with the Chicago Blackhawks. I always thought the boys in red were so far out of reach but I’ve had the pleasure of interacting with them enough now for Mr. Patrick Sharp to pick me out of a sea of fans. Did you catch that? PATRICK SHARP KNOWS THAT I EXIST. It made me feel like I was 14 all over again, like having your hunky crush say hi to you in the hallway. My face went bright red and I giggled like an idiot.
Learning to speak up for myself. No more letting everyone else run the Kayla show. Being able to vocalize what’s important to me represents huge growth on my part. I know that I have to make myself a priority. “Growing a pair” is a process but it’s happening.
Experiencing old favorites like it’s the first time all over again. Kayaking! No one loves kayaking more than I do. When I was told no oceans or lakes, it was a huge letdown. But with a little rule breaking, I kayaked in the Pacific a week ago and in Lake Michigan a couple days ago. Water is magic. It seduces you. A "quick kayak" easily turns into a “however far I can go before my arms fall off” every time. The only thing that hurt more than my arms was my cheeks from smiling. I appreciate things so much more now.
The many nights I woke up yacking only to be given medicine and fed a bite or two of a rice cake by my parents. This might sound like a bad memory but how often do we have the pleasure of falling asleep in our parents’ arms after a certain age? How often do our parents get to hold us in their arms and watch us sleep? There was something special about being cared for like a child again. And I suspect there was something special about getting to parent and care for me in a way I have not needed in years. Maybe they couldn't take away the sick or the pain but they did take away the fear, even if just for a moment. How lucky am I to have such a wonderful family?
I have many fun memories from Theme-o but my favorites are the ones that involved other patients. There were a lot of people who popped into my hospital room that day to see if the rumors were true, if Spiderman really was getting pumped full of spidey juice. We loved spreading smiles around the Kellogg Cancer Center. I made a lot of friends and connected with many patients. Plus, I'm always happy to take pictures.
All of the celebrations! I loved forcing all my friends and family together to celebrate even the simplest occasion. I was desperate for fun. Never feeling alone is how I, we, got through this. Multiple pre-op parties made the whole ordeal feel more relaxed and recovery easier because I’d gotten some fun in before. Celebrating finishing everything was great too! I loved seeing everyone karaoke and dance together. Sometimes I'd start with a room full of strangers and everyone would be friends by the end. Great to see old and new faces and I loved dancing and laughing with you all!
Getting the phone call that my path results came back clear. It was almost two weeks after my double mastectomy that I got the results back. Hearing that I was completely clear of cancer was just as shocking as finding out I had it. I casually told my parents the news and they were elated and I didn't really react. About 30 minutes later, I was in a ball in my laundry room sobbing my face off for the next two hours. I had become so accustomed to that life that I just assumed that's how it would always be. I never saw a life outside of cancer. This was the first time that I realized life wasn’t taken from me but being given to me.
TLC in the hospital. My medical team grew to be my family. It's an odd thing to miss a hospital but I truly do. The friendly faces and warm hugs from CDH and Evanston Hospital will always feel like home to me. Both locations had people on the ground with me when I crumbled and feeding me cake when I was victorious. My mom recorded me post-surgery this time and I couldn't thank my nurse Rita enough for all the TLC she gave me. I was out of my mind on drugs but I had no problem recognizing the way she made me feel. Have a great doctor? Did a nurse take good care of you? Thank them. They can't hear it enough.
I get to love the way I want to. When you look death in the eye, it makes you change the way you treat others. I have always been a lover, an over-the-top at times, enthusiastic, big-time lover. I have always tried to make sure all of my relationships know their value but I put even more into that now. Since people witnessed what I went through, I think it has made them more accepting and even inviting of this big love. I think they saw me get a second chance at life and are willing to let me live it and share it the way I want to. Love without being told to hold back. That's a gift I cherish.
Allows others to love the way they want to. I think seeing someone you care about fight cancer helps you let your guard down a little with your own feelings too. I’m so much closer with my family and friends now. No one is afraid to say how they feel and every interaction ends with "I love you." My friends and I have become much more affectionate. It's nice to hear, "I love you" and "Ok, one more hug!" No shame in the love fest happening here.
Reimagine! Cancer welcomed me into another family—my Reimagine.me family! The folks in my office are amazing. It's fun to dream dreams with others. It's even better working together to make them come true. Survivorship is a sensitive time that doesn’t get a lot of attention, which makes me want to do all I can to bring Reimagine.me’s survivorship curriculum into treatment plans. Every day is spent pouring our energies into helping patients and caregivers take their lives back from cancer. With Reimagine comes a new job title: Professional Cancer Survivor. I’ve met many deserving of this title but none who get to write it on their tax forms. I love getting to apply life experience to my job AND incorporate everyone I love into it. They created a role for me and I'm working to own it.
Puberty 2.0. Puberty is a time when you go through crazy changes, both physical and emotional. You react in ways you can't explain. And then one day you wake up in an unrecognizable body. Most of us cringe at the memories of puberty and most would never want to do it again. Cancer has a lot of similarities. Chemo screwed with my hormones and Tamoxifen has kept it up. My body has been altered. I've been hit with emotions that left me feeling out of control. In a month, my bandages will be removed and I'll have another new body to figure out. But this time around I'm actually excited. I became so detached from my physical self over the past year in an effort to cope. But now I have a whole new body to get to know/embrace and I'm actually looking forward to doing it. It happened so awkwardly the first time. I'm stoked to embark on an own-your-bod do-over. It's an important part to being a strong woman and healthy human. Fingers crossed for a more graceful transformation this time around.
I can help more people now. My heart breaks when I get a text saying, "My friend was just diagnosed with cancer," because I have an idea of what's in store but I love when the next text asks if they can give out my number for advice. PLEASE GIVE THEM MY NUMBER! PLEASE ASK FOR WAYS TO HELP! Other cancer survivors I meet are little branches of support I cling to. What was the point of fighting if I can't also help other patients or caregivers? Cancer becomes a gift when I have the opportunity to support others. I've racked my pea brain for ways I could directly work to cure cancer but I'm not laboratory material; I am friend material. Cancer peeps are my peeps. I'm in the club for life and happy to contribute however I'm able.
I've always said my dream job would be "Professional Friend." If I can be a source of strength or motivation for others, that's great. More than that, I hope I can be a voice of comfort and safety to those who hear me. Half of friendship is helping someone feel less alone. Maybe if people can relate to my cancer journey, to drowning in stress and emotions, or to not being able to recognize their reflection, they'll feel a little bit of hope. Sometimes strength comes from knowing even one person out there gets it.
Happy returns. I'm really happy out in California. I feel a strong sense of purpose and thoroughly enjoy my surroundings. It would be easy to stay out here and keep moving in a new direction but even when you're cancer free, you're not free from cancer. I will always have scans and appointments in my future. My medical team happens to consist of a bunch of all-stars that I never plan on leaving. So, even though I love my sunny skies and ocean, I'm thankful to be forever tied to the Chicago-land. I like knowing that no matter where life takes me, I’ll always have one place as a constant. Luckily for me it happens to be home to some of the greatest people I've ever known. I'll keep coming back to you guys for as long as you'll let me.
New people. Lovely people were a part of my life before cancer and would have continued to be without it, but, that being said, I'm not sure that I would have had the privilege of sneaking onto the Skinner family's radar without it. I don't know that I would have spent a week in Nicaragua and met my favorite Caitie who introduced me to roommates that I know will be lifelong friends. Given the option I wouldn't choose life as a cancer patient but I definitely would never change it. Some people can make anything seem worthwhile.
I'm thankful cancer happened because it provided me with opportunities to grow and better myself and it gave me a fresh start on life. The world is more beautiful and everyone is precious. Second chances are a luxury. I have a better understanding of what I almost lost and I'm not going to waste this gift.