BuiltaLife

Offering hope to those on the path behind me

Collateral Damage – The Damage Cancer Causes to The One’s You Love


Collateral damage was originally used by the military and is defined as “any death, injury, or other damage inflicted that is an incidental result of an activity.”

I’ve written before about how much I hate cancer. But I realize all of those were written from a very selfish perspective.

Granted, I AM the one living with cancer. And my body has been through A LOT.

I didn’t properly thank him at the time. He went with me to appointments. Listened to doctors. Saw me in more pain than giving birth to our two daughters. And he held my hand through it all. He was there in the trenches with me

(Sorry to those of you who don’t like the battle analogy but we all see things a little differently. I appreciate your perspective, I hope you can appreciate mine at least for this blog post.)

As I was fighting on the front line (ie surgeries, chemo, radiation). He was fighting a different battle. Trying to keep the household going. Taking kids to school, helping with homework, grocery shopping, preparing meals (that I may or may not have even felt like eating).

And then the tables turned.

When my husband got cancer, I was able to see the toll my cancer took on him. I was taking him to appointments. Listening to doctors. And watching him experience so much pain. Holding his hand through it all.

When I was diagnosed in 2003, our kids were young. Even when I was diagnosed with metastatic cancer our kids were still in school. There were still home responsibilities that had to be handled. And I was not exactly mobile with a hip joint that no longer worked.

When he was diagnosed in 2015, the kids were older. There was no sheltering them from what was happening. One was a junior in college, the other a senior in high school. It wasn’t up to me to make sure they were getting to practices or school. Friends brought meals so often that I almost forgot how to cook anything other than reheating things in a microwave.

My husband was in a trial at MD Anderson in Houston which required trips from our home to Houston (about a 3 hour car ride) several times a month from October 2015 through January 2016.

His cancer was much more aggressive than mine. For the first time I understood what my doctor meant when he said “as long as your mets stay in your bones, we can manage it”. My husband’s mets were in his lungs and then moved to his brain. We went to the emergency room and he had several hospital stays from February 2016 until he passed away in July 2016.

My husband and I were again in the trenches. We were battle buddies. We fought the fight together. Until the very end when cancer finally ravaged his body so much that he had nothing left to give.

I grieved. For my husband, for my children, and finally for my own cancer diagnosis.

I lost my husband, my best friend, and my battle buddy. I still had metastatic cancer and was still in the trenches. But my battle buddy was gone.

My daughters have spent most of their life living with someone with cancer.

They were 5 and 8 when I was first diagnosed with breast cancer. When I was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer they were 12 and 15. When their dad was diagnosed with cancer they were 17 and 20.

Their dad died when they were 17 (a month shy of her 18th birthday) and 21 (just 20 days after her 21st birthday).

We always put on a strong face for our girls. Sheltered them from as much as we could. And tried our best to give them a “normal” childhood (whatever that means).

I thought we did a pretty good job. And yet…

The reality is they suffered cancer’s collateral damage.

Recently, I have had conversations with both of them about their childhood. Both told me they have “blocked out” some of their childhood memories.

That surprised me.

Like I said, I thought we had done a pretty good job of giving them a normal life.

My oldest has tells me often she is “certain” she will get cancer. She’s just not sure when or what kind. She lives with an anxiety I wish I could wipe away. But no matter how much I tried to shield her, cancer still managed to destroy part of her.

Cancer took a little hope away every time it came knocking at our door.

My youngest. She has lived with the idea of cancer most of her life. Recently we were watching Grey’s Anatomy (spoiler if you haven’t watched recent episodes). A mother and daughter both had COVID. The mother told the doctors (paraphrasing here) “please save my daughter”. The daughter said (paraphrasing again) “please save my mother”.

If the scene doesn’t bring at least a tear to your eye then I don’t know what would. But when the commercial came on, my youngest said “Mom, don’t save me. I can’t take another tragedy in my life.” 

If you aren’t crying now do you even have a heart? It was a dagger to mine.

I tried to shield them from so much. But they are always watching. They see what is going on. Even if they aren’t talking about it. As a parent I thought my husband and I had done our best to raise two incredible women.

And yet, I failed to recognize the collateral damage cancer inflicted on my children.

They went to summer camps, played in the school band, graduated from high school with good grades, went to the college of their choice, graduated from college with dreams of a career of their choice (one is an athletic trainer and the other is a math teacher).

But underneath all of those accomplishments are scars inflicted by cancer’s stray bullets.

Leaving life long scars from the collateral damage inflicted while their dad and I were in the trenches with cancer. Trying our best to give them a sense of normalcy.

In the end, while we were staring down the enemy in the trenches, we did not see the collateral damage cancer was causing to the very ones we were trying to protect.

During some of the conversations about repressed memories, I have apologized for the fact that they did not have what they would consider a normal childhood. Although they both graciously acknowledge there is nothing to apologize for as it was out of my control, I wish I could go back in time and create memories with them that would out weigh those that they have blocked. 

I am currently beating the odds.

I have lived with metastatic breast cancer for 10 plus years. . And since it is “just in my bones” I feel like I am winning this battle in the trenches. I’m still trying to limit anymore collateral damage.  But every time I go in for scans, the reality is that my cancer could show progression (and it has over those 10 years – I’m currently on my 4th line of treatment).

I would give my kids the world if I could. Unfortunately, all I can do is continue to take my chemo, go to my scans every 4 months, and pray the scans continue to show no progression (and, as my oncologists said, stays “just in my bones”).

This kind of collateral damage is why the hashtags #stageivneedsmore and #researchnotribbons are so meaningful to me and every other metastatic breast cancer patient. We want to live, create memories that won’t be blocked out, and not allow cancer to cause any more collateral damage.

Dream Big – Lessons from my Skydiving adventure

March 6th is my wedding anniversary. And every year since my husband passed away (this is my 5th wedding anniversary without him) I have planned an adventure.

This year I decided to GO BIG!

Ready to leap into the unknown

During the pandemic, I read Dream Big and listened to (almost) every episode of the Dream Big podcast with Bob Goff. I even took a writing class with him on Facebook. Do you ever have to hear the same thing over and over again until it finally sinks in? The book, the podcast, and the writing class all encouraged me to start checking items off my bucket list.

Honestly though, what was I waiting for?

I have lived and survived some hard times. I was diagnosed with cancer at the age of 37. Heard my cancer had metastasized at age 44. Discovered my husband had cancer when I was 49. And finally, watched my husband die from cancer weeks after I turned 50. (Who Am I?)

Now that I am 54, and have been living with metastatic cancer for 10 years, it is time for me to take that leap.

So, as Tim McGraw sings, “I went skydiving.”

Soaring through the clouds
(even got the instructor to give the Frog sign #GoFrogs)

After a bumpy start to the day, and having to change locations (but that’s a different story), my friends and I ended up at Spaceland in San Marcos

[For another option check out Skydive Lone Star – the people there were some of the friendliest, most helpful people I’ve ever met]

After signing all the waivers, and watching a short training video, it was time to climb into the suit and harness. I met my instructor, Tubbs, who listened to all of my concerns – and all of the concerns of my friends that were there to watch me jump – and made me (and them) feel like we could pull this off safely and with no regrets.

45 minutes later I was strapped to Tubbs, falling from the sky. Trusting this person with my life.

Seven minutes later I was back on the ground with the world’s biggest grin on my face.

Sitting here this morning, reflecting on my experience, I’m amazed at what I learned in those 7 minutes:

  • The first step is the scariest – While signing the paperwork, talking with the instructor, even going up in the plane my nerves were steady. I was prepared. I was not afraid. Until the moment my feet were dangling from the side of the plane. One fleeting thought of “why did I think this was a good idea?” Then we were falling and the thought flew away in a different direction.
  • After you take the first step and commit yourself, it feels like a freight train coming straight at you. 60 seconds. That’s how long we fell before pulling the cord. Lots of thoughts go through your mind in 60 seconds. After you take that first step, life has a way of coming at you faster than you had planned. But don’t forget, you (hopefully) packed a parachute, and when you pull the cord…
  • Don’t forget to pull the cord to release the chute – Sometimes we get caught up in the rush, and we need to slow down and enjoy the view. Once the chute is released it is as if time stands still. You can see what lies before you with much more clarity. There is time to get your bearings, make a plan and enjoy the rest of the ride.
  • Even when you are falling, someone’s got your back (literally when it comes to tandem skydiving). Sometimes we fail to recognize that there are people around us that are willing and able to help us when we feel out of control. Find someone (or several someones) that you are willing to tether yourself to who will support you and guide you on the beautiful journey of life. If I can trust a person I’ve only known for 45 minutes with my life (after signing waiver after waiver stating I won’t sue if something goes wrong), I should trust those that God has hand-picked to place in my life to help me through everything else.
Don’t let go of those people you trust with your life

And the #1 Lesson Learned

  • When you get your feet back on the ground, celebrate all that you have accomplished!
Celebrate a job well done!

When your tank is empty Who or What helps fill it up?

Once when I was in high school a friend dropped me off at home. I went inside and about two minutes later she was knocking on my door. She had run out of gas. Her car was sitting in the middle of the street with an empty tank.

As we drove to the gas station in my car with an empty gas can, I asked her how she ran out of gas. Her response “I just wanted to see how far I could go once the needle got to E.”

She laughed like it was a game. I just shook my head.

I don’t know about you, everyone is different. But I am one of the ones that (most of the time) feels like if the needle gets to a quarter of a tank I am on the lookout for where I’m going to be getting some gas. With the fancier, newer cars I may push that a little further, but I don’t always trust technology telling me how many miles I have left in my tank.

Yesterday, I was feeling like I had less than a quarter of a tank in my personal tank. You know, the tank inside of you. The one that can only be filled by spending time with people who fill your tank. Your soul’s tank.

As an enneagram 9, it is easy for me to slip into sloth mode when my tank is getting empty. But I knew I needed to do something.

That’s me branding a bed for Sleep in Heavenly Peace (shout out to my friend Cheryl holding my coffee cup and cane while I work)

I was able to talk myself into getting up, getting dressed, and driving to our church parking lot where there was a large service project going on. Our church had partnered with a group called Sleep in Heavenly Peace to build and deliver beds for kids that otherwise wouldn’t have a bed to sleep in. [If you would like to donate to this great cause, our church will be doing this again later this spring, you can donate here or you can text BEDS to 44321].

When I am feeling like my tank is getting empty, the 80’s music gets louder. And yesterday, I was driving THAT car. The one that you can hear their music when you are sitting at the stoplight.

As soon as I pulled into the parking lot at church, Jackson Browne started singing “Running on Empty.” As if my tank wasn’t already empty enough, the only parking spot was right in front of the columbarium where my husband’s ashes are interned (you can read more about our life by reading from the beginning of this blog or this post will give a great synopsis). I have definitely been missing him these past few weeks. He knew how to help me keep my tank full.

Empty. Running on Empty. That is exactly how I felt. For the past two weeks (let’s be honest, most of 2021 so far), I have been using everything in my own tank to fuel other people.

I’m not mad about what I have done. I’m not mad at the people I have done it for. I just realized that my tank was running on empty and I needed to do something about it.

Karah, KIm (me) and Regina – at First Untied Methodist Church Round Rock building beds for Sleep in Heavenly Peace

After turning off the radio, and blowing a kiss to J.R. I spent the morning working (well sort of) at the bed build – but mostly visiting with friends that filled my tank.

Later in the day, I filled it some more, by getting to visit with a friend who moved a couple of hours away last year (She definitely used her tank yesterday – literally and physically, by helping my daughter get some of her remaining items from her old apartment to my house).

I’m not sure if it is my age (I am proud to say I’m 54). Or the fact that I live with metastatic breast cancer (and have for 10 years, which is why I can be proud to tell you my age). When I push and push and push, my body takes days to recover. I spent two days (Thursday and Friday) as a couch potato. Doing next to nothing.

But filling my soul tank. That took just a few hours and some good friends.

I’m usually pretty good at not letting my tank get that empty. I forget sometimes that my recovery takes longer than I think it should (#thankscancer).

I know that if I do some simple things, my tank stays well above the quarterof a tank line. For example:

  • get a workout in (when I’m being a sloth it is hard to remember that exercise makes me feel better and keeps my tank full)
  • spend time with a friend(s) who listen and refresh my outlook
  • allow time for rest – one of the problems recently is that I spent hours upon hours standing, lifting, and moving stuff for several days in a row. This made it even more enticing to enter the sloth-like mentality at night (and not want to exercise with my camp gladiator trainer who gives me joy by her own enthusiasm).

So this is a note to you (but mostly to myself), don’t allow yourself to get caught in the middle of nowhere Running on Empty. Find a rest stop to recharge and refill your tank.

#OneWord2021

It is time to choose my #oneword2021.

It is time to put 2020 behind us (finally, we will all have 2020 hindsight – yeah, I know, it’s been done already).

One of our pastors talked about this idea in his morning devotional. It isn’t a new idea to me, but I haven’t practiced if much or well in the past.

In fact, earlier this year, I told you all what my One Word would be for 2020. It was Purposeful. Sadly, I had to look back at the blog post to remember it which tells me I was not very good about leaning into my chosen word. I am still a fan of the #sixwordmemoir that I wrote:

Living for Today. Hoping for Tomorrow.

Kim builta, six word memoir

As I was searching for a word to carry me into and through 2021 I found myself on the OneWord website and reading some of their suggested words:

  • resolve, release, change, adapt, courage, sacrifice, brave, transformation, appreciate, inspire, health, battle

As I read some of these words, I reflected on my past several years. None of them were resonating with me. Trust me when I say I have to focus on some of these words all the time. Health, battle, change, adapt. Check. Check. Check. Check.

I wanted something that would keep me grounded, but not dwelling on the past.

After writing words such as BOLD, DARING, POSSIBLE, and INSPIRED, I finally settled on:

My word for 2021 is TODAY

In keeping with my six-word memoir, I will choose to live for Today. I will focus on what I can do Today. I will not worry about Tomorrow (“for tomorrow will worry about itself” Matthew 6:24). I will not be hung up on Yesterday and what I didn’t do, or what I should have done.

I will focus on Today. I can choose to be BOLD, DARING, INSPIRED, and full of POSSIBILITIES when I keep my focus on Today.

What one word will you carry with you into 2021?

What’s the Theme of Your Story?

Every great story has a Theme. Every character has a flaw that needs to be fixed. Every Hero has to grow.

One of my favorite movies is “The Holiday” I can watch it anytime, anywhere. If I am in a bad mood, it can lift my spirits. It allows me to escape my bad mood if only for a short time. Everyone should have a movie or book that can do that.

My favorite quote is from Iris (in fact I have probably referenced the quote in other posts here). She is having dinner with Arthur and he sums her life up in one line. Her response:

“You’re so right. You’re supposed to be the leading lady of your own life for God’s sake.”

Iris, in “The Holiday”

Sometimes I have to remind myself that I am supposed to be the leading lady of my own life. Maybe that is why I like the movie so much. I love the growth of Iris over the course of an hour and a half. I wish it were always that easy.

A few years ago I participated in National Novel Writing Month or NaNoWriMo. I wrote 50,000 plus words for a novel that I thought had great potential. (I still think it has great potential)

Then I sat back and wondered, what am I supposed to do with this now? It was a mess. I needed guidance. There was no order to the book and it was really just 50,000 bad words thrown together around one central idea. I had no idea what writing a novel actually entailed, I just had an idea for a story.

It sat dormant and occasionally friends would ask me “How is the book coming along?” I would hem and haw and say something like “I need to get back to it” or “It needs a lot of work”

This week I started reading “Save the Cat! Writes a Novel”. It was recommended in an online writing class I am taking.

“Save The Cat” helped me understand and identify the theme for my novel. And I am excited to get back to working on it. But it has done so much more than help me see how I can improve the story.

If you have followed this blog for a while, you may have figured out that I have been stuck. Grief can make you feel like you are going through life as though you are trudging through wet cement. Each step forward can feel like it takes everything you have to lift your foot with more and more dried cement caking on with each step. It is a slow, exhausting process.

As I was reading “Save the Cat” I realized the scenes in the book are not just what makes something a great read. It is also what makes any great character understand they have been the leading lady in their own life all along.

Yes, I know every high school English Teacher is shaking their head right now thinking “Are You Kidding Me? Were you not paying attention in your English classes?”

I had one (probably more than one) “All is Lost” Scenes in the last few years. The last one came when my cancer progressed after seven years of “stable”. I was complacent, accepting, going through the motions. I was not living the life I wanted. The theme to my own life had been eluding me.

Just like every hero in any book or movie, I had to go through the “Dark Night Ephipany” to realize I was still acting like the best friend and not the leading lady.

That catalyst helped me see what I had really been looking for. While many have seen the change of the pandemic as limiting, to me 2020 helped me to fully embrace the leading lady role in my own life. Making choices and moving forward. I am chiseling off all of the dried cement that had been gathering on my shoes and I feel like I am moving at a pace that shows much more progress.

The “Stated Theme” to my own life is simple “What do I want to do with my life?”

I want to make choices that show I am the leading lady of my life.

One of my goals used to be to finish writing my novel. But I have upped my game and am stating that my new goal is to get my book published.

Now I just have to go revise it.

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