While the ‘lifestyles of the rich and famous’ may make headlines and the covers of magazines, most people will admit that it’s the small things in life that really matter. In fact, Kristen has made that principle the foundation of her daily life.
Born and raised in Marietta, Georgia, Kristen headed to UGA for college where she spent “a nice five years for extra football time,” and enjoyed the full southern college experience while earning her degree in communication.
After graduating, Kristen moved back to her parents’ while she looked for a job, and also used that time to have a lump she found on her breast checked out. It was then that she was diagnosed with Stage 3a cancer, had six rounds of chemo, and a double mastectomy. “The irony is that while lots of women want to change things about their breasts, I really liked mine,” quips Kristen with her typical sense of mirth. After 33 rounds of radiation, Kristen was ready to get back to career mode, and took an internship with the American Cancer Society. After a few months at the organization, she took a full time position in Jacksonville, Florida and started a life in the Sunshine State working to plan the organization’s Relay for Life event. Another added bonus? Her proximity to the Mayo Clinic for her regular scans and check-ups.
But after a year and a half, one of those scan revealed that Kristen’s cancer was back and had spread to her spine. “It was a pretty big shock,” remembers Kristen. “But I cried for a day and then moved on. I knew how the whole thing went, and I just figured it was time to do it again.”
At that point, Kristen moved back home and while receiving hormone therapy, decided to take the opportunity to travel. “It wasn’t that I viewed things as final, I just figured I should live my life a little bit while I was being treated,” she says. So she took a trip to hang out with friends in Chicago, visited family in Ohio and went to Miami for the first time. Then, right before she left for a two-week trip to Italy, Kristen learned her cancer had spread to her liver. After a change of meds, she enjoyed her time abroad, only to return home and find the cancer had spread once again–this time to her chest. Next, a spot was found on her femur. Kristen’s reaction? She took a trip with her mom to New York City.
And throughout it all, that was Kristen’s response–incredible resolve and calm. “I just really find happiness in the little things,” she shares. “I just do what makes me happy day by day. If I feel good, I go do something fun!” So whether it’s enjoying an evening out with friends, watching a football game, heading to the river to kayak, or just taking a walk with her dog, Kristen enjoys every little thing in life. And loves every minute of it.
Then something shocking happened: Scan after scan showed her cancer continue to spread through her body, in August of 2013, a year and two months after Kristen first learned her cancer had come back, her routine scan revealed not a single spot, anywhere in her body. “It was all gone,” Kristen says. “There was no sign of disease, and I was considered to be in remission.”
So for the next three months, Kristen began substitute teaching and started the job hunt. She took a trip to Hawaii with other young survivors and learned to stand-up paddle and surf.
But then, in November, the cancer came back. “The scan showed that it had returned to my sternum, liver, femur and lymph nodes,” explains Kristen. “It isn’t back in my spine yet, and it’s only back in the same places it was before, nowhere new,” she shares in typical Kristen positivity.
Kristen’s now on a new hormone therapy, has restarted radiation, and will begin chemo soon. “I’m throwing a ‘shave my head’ party, and all my friends will have to take a shot before they can shave part of my head,” laughs Kristen. “I’m not too stressed about my hair–I’ve done it before!”
And just like that, Kristen uses her typical mixture of resolve and optimism to show us that the joys in life are everywhere. You just have to know where to look.
■ Emily L. Foley