Life is a series of events. We are born, we grow up, we go through school, we make friends, we get educated, we find a job, we get married, we buy a house, we have children, we retire, we grow old and we die. Everyone’s order of events may be slightly different but for the most part the events follow the same line. What makes each person unique is the story that is created between events. The dreams, the struggles, the lessons learned, the conflict, the growth, the love, the purpose and the victories. I believe God knows our story even before we are born (Jeremiah 1:5). However, sometimes it is the decisions we make in life that can interrupt the pattern and outcome of our story.
For example, there was a time in my life that I did not know Jesus. In fact I made it all the way to my early 20’s before I had even learned who He was. It was a time of confusion, hopelessness, frustration, conflict and dis-function. The decisions I made were not Christ centered, they were ‘me’ centered. God recognized my selfish ways and used other people to open my heart to His word. Whether you believe or not, you are created with the spirit of God and whether you are born into a family that aspires for you to develop a relationship with Him or you discover it on your own, He is in you. For me, He put people in my life who could educate, lead and inspire me to know Him. Oh how grateful I am for that because I am not sure how I would have made it through the last several months without Him.
I would say my story is very unique in that it seems every chapter of my life carries a weight of baggage that gets heavier with each passing year. Between a divorce, murder, abuse, alcoholism, eating disorder and everything in between I could easily say I am no stranger to challenges (however, these challenges don’t define me anymore). So when I was diagnosed with a brain tumor I didn’t react how most people might. I didn’t get real emotional and I didn’t get angry, I just got really confused. Like when you work so hard for something and it doesn’t turn out the way you want it to. I thought, “God, what the heck are you thinking? I have so much to do… I’m not finished yet, I’ve barely started… Why are you doing this? I don’t understand…” I just sat in the office chair with my eyes closed and head leaning against the wall as my doctor delivered the results. Confusion is a very frustrating place to be. I returned to my car and just sat there in silence not knowing if I should scream, cry or pray.
Over the next few weeks I reflected on the last several years. I was reminded of the possible symptoms I was hiding from that could have been signs. Since high school I had dealt with bad headaches. Some which left me hospitalized due to seizure-like symptoms. I recall a specific time in college during basketball season after one of our long road trips that I had experienced a headache like none other on the bus ride home and I didn’t say anything to anyone. I remember walking down towards the parking lot in the middle of winter with a gym bag and backpack at about 1 o’clock in the morning. Then the last thing I remembered were the two men’s team players helping my coach lift me into her vehicle where I was taken to the ER, drugged and sent home. I obviously must have passed out from the pain. Over the course of at least 7 years I had multiple tests done including sleep studies and EEG’s with diagnosis ranging from cluster headaches to migraines but I was never given an MRI. I was so used to ‘dealing’ with pain by now that any probable signs didn’t appear as red flags – they were just bad days. The ‘pharmacy’ I started to acquire from the cocktail of medications on my counter only left me more frustrated and hopeless. And nothing ever seemed to work at prevention. Whether the headaches I still continue to get have anything to do with the tumor is beyond my comprehension but I am sure having a brain tumor didn’t help any.
So after college and for the last five years I gave up seeing doctor’s. I was sick of getting the run around – I just had to learn to deal with it. It didn’t help that I didn’t have health insurance and I knew how expensive healthcare was. I wasn’t about to get into debt over this incurable pain and it was enough of an excuse to avoid any further medical treatment altogether. Young, active, healthy me is now learning the hard way. (P.S. if you are reading this and you don’t have health insurance – GET IT NOW!!! Learn from my mistakes). Then, in two back to back years – 2011 & 2012 I hit a deer (both in mid November late at night) and totaled two cars. Thankfully the deer I hit in 2011 I was able to walk away from without a scratch. My car and that deer didn’t get so lucky though. But God has an interesting sense of humor. He obviously was doing everything in His power to get me to a doctor because after the 2012 deer hit (going 80 mph on the freeway) I was left with a ‘head injury’ of all things. Thank God that’s all it was but it was enough of a burden to leave me lifeless for several weeks. To think, God sacrificed that poor deer’s life for me.
Eventually, I started to have some good days following the accident and was trying to adjust getting back to normalcy. Then one night, while at home alone I felt the rush of heat and blindness overcome me and down I went – hitting my forehead against a wall on the way down. As soon as I regained consciousness I texted my friend Joanne to come over and she immediately drove me to Froedert. That’s where the brain tumor diagnosis began. For at least two months after the diagnosis (during the watch and wait period) I was in a restless state of denial – this can’t possibly be real. But once they did the 2nd MRI, reality had set in. That was definitely a turning point for me. When we go through struggles and finally face the truth we really only have two options in how to handle them – we can develop a will to fail or a will to fight. The will to fail attitude is a point of giving up, defeat and cowardice. Failure in this situation would end in my demise so my only option was to fight.
I had some pretty big decisions to make moving forward. I am naturally a very indecisive person so making these types of life and death decisions were not easy. There were many days I was so afraid to face the situation that I didn’t even want to get out of bed. Just think about a time when life was really difficult. The world would continue to move forward without you but it seemed like your world stopped. And no matter how much you wanted to move with the world, negative forces were constantly pulling you back. I just wanted to fast forward through this entire scene of my life and yet it seemed to be going in slow motion. The 2nd MRI results terrified me – the tumor was growing and it was growing fast. Anymore growth and it was certain I would lose my sight. It suddenly made sense why my vision seemed so off all the time. The tumor was also pressing against critical nerves and blood vessels that made it inoperable and life threatening. I was no longer confused, I was scared. I was not prepared to die yet, this was not good news! Everything started to move really fast after that point. My only escape route out of this was to make decisions I didn’t want to make and do things I didn’t want to do. As odd as this sounds, I almost wished they would have just told me, “Kristen, you need brain surgery.” At least then the decisions would have been out of my hands. Or so I thought…
Lesson 1 – ALWAYS Seek Council
Many of the poor decisions I made in the past resulted from following my own advice. I did not seek counsel and I did not seek God. I am thankful to have mentors like George and Jill Guzzardo and Dave and Tina Chatmon who were able to help with the decision-making process. But the most important connection I made was with God. It was ultimately Him who I seeked most.
My first option was to combine 6 weeks of radiation with a daily chemotherapy drug which was shown to delay tumor growth. I was told that radiation can cause hair loss at the point of contact, inflammation in the mouth, difficulty chewing, speaking or swallowing, poor appetite due to changes in food taste, fatigue, personality changes, memory problems, secondary cancers and infertility. So wait a minute… I might not be able to eat…or think…or have children? How is this helping me again? I did not want to do radiation for the life of me but unfortunately my options were so limited I didn’t have much of a choice. This was the quickest and most effective way to stop the tumor from growing. Quick, HA! It was the longest 6 weeks of my life. But thankfully it worked (according to the results from the 3rd MRI). But the treatments didn’t stop there. Because of the location and urgency, I needed to start the next option of treatment to potentially shrink the tumor – tiered chemotherapy for a minimum of 6 to 12 months – much different than the one I was given with the radiation. The list of side effects are much too long to list but the biggest blessing that came of it was that I didn’t lose all my hair (like they mentioned I might). As superficial as I felt it was, it was really the only sense of dignity I had left. (I have to thank my friend and hairstylist Sandy for the extra prayers on that one).
The poisons and the toxins that consumed my body were enough to send me to an early grave but by the grace of God my life was spared. During all of this I was so conflicted. Just imagine what it would be like if someone told you that in order to save your life you would have to drink poison (because that’s what chemotherapy is). And yet each day I had to face this mental hurdle. While I was trusting God to lead me in the right direction, I continued to fear making wrong decisions.
But God had a plan. He always does. He heard my cries and He recognized my fear. He was just waiting for the right time to reveal His perfect plan. I think God sometimes uses pain in order to heal.
In June, I attended the LIFE leadership convention in Ohio. I had been looking forward to it for months. I prayed constantly that God would relieve me of my physical pain just for a few days. All I wanted was one weekend of learning, excitement, laughter, fellowship and fun. I didn’t think it was asking too much. But God thought differently. Instead of feeling great that weekend, I was miserable. The intense noise in the arena, the confined seating arrangements, the flashing lights, the nauseating aroma of hot dogs, pizza and popcorn lingering through the hallways – it was so uncomfortable. It was the middle of day two when I received the text from my mentor Jill Guzzardo. “How are you doing?”
Lesson 2 – ALWAYS Choose Honesty
I have always been guilty of hiding my feelings and emotions. I don’t like to complain just as much as I don’t like complainers. But when the text came in this time I had another decision to make – tell her I was great, or tell her the truth. A dishonest prideful response would have only left me alone back at my hotel room for the remainder of the night and weekend (and of course the rest of this story would not even exist). What did I have to lose, maybe she could help.
In short, I told Jill how I was really doing and she went into action. To my surprise she was able to lead me to a comfortable, quiet place where I could spend the remainder of the weekend – something I would have never expected. While that decision led to a series of God moments, the most important God moment happened Sunday afternoon when my friends Laurie and Terri explained a treatment option to me that I hadn’t thought about – homeopathy. I was then encouraged to follow up with an incredible woman named Jenn who is specially trained in this field.
This was also unfamiliar territory for me so I continued to reflect on the weekend and pray about the decision before moving forward. I just didn’t want to set myself up for even more disappointment. But I knew I could trust these woman more than anyone so what did I really have to lose? Thankfully I received so much confirmation and it just continued to build my belief and confidence in the process.
Two weeks later and away I went. Initially I started with 12 gallons of ‘formulated’ water and 400 natural supplements that I was told break up tumors. I was so used to taking pills that downing 100 supplements a day for 4 days was a piece of cake. No side effects, no pain – this was awesome!! I received the first regimen before visiting Jenn for the first time because we wanted to get the process moving. Instructions were to drink a half gallon to a gallon a day so I drank a gallon. In my first visit with Jenn she found multiple tumors using her scan in the same location that the MRI showed. Wow this thing was accurate! After identifying the tumors and the crud that created them in the first place I was assigned with 11 more gallons that were more customized towards my chemical make up along with 200 more supplements. The process is too complicated for me to explain, I didn’t really care about how it worked, I just wanted it to work! And 23 gallons of water and 600 supplements later, at my 2nd visit with Jenn the tumors were gone! I was issued 6 more gallons and 3 more bottles of supplements for brain ‘clean up’ but according to her scan, I was tumor free!
Lesson 3 – ALWAYS Trust God
Truthfully, I had no confidence in the radiation or chemotherapy. I couldn’t understand how it could possibly work. I just felt like they were delaying the inevitable. But I continued to trust God that He would work it all out.
I can guarantee that if it wasn’t for my faith this journey and story would be so much different. I’ve heard it said before that God never gives us more than we can handle. So He must have thought I could handle this and every test along the way. There were so many times I found myself taking early morning drives down to the lake and afternoon walks down by the river in order to ‘escape’ and spend time thinking and praying without distraction. All the little decisions that I trusted Him with could have meant a completely different outcome had I not turned to Him.
Just to confirm that Jenn’s test was accurate I went to get my 4th MRI and for the first time I felt peace of mind knowing that whatever the result, God was in control. If I was meant to be healed, I would be. And deep down I just knew this had to be part of His plan. He had equipped and put more amazing people in my path in order to prove His faithfulness. Well, the results came back and it confirmed what I already knew to be true, the tumors were gone!! The look of shock on my doctor’s face was absolutely priceless! He even double checked the name to make sure he had the right report 🙂 Yup, it was mine! This man, a brain oncology and neuro specialist with over 31 years of practice was undeniably speechless for the longest and most awkward minute imaginable. In my steady flow of tears I was able to express my faith with him and I could just feel the Holy spirit working on his heart.
It’s nearly impossible to describe the feelings I had as I approached my car and sat down after the appointment. I didn’t call anyone for at least an hour because it too left me speechless. All I could do was thank God for this blessing and all the people who might now come to know Him as a result of His healing. I thanked Him for the people who have supported and prayed through all this and for the doctor’s who didn’t waste any time starting treatments and delivering results. I thanked Him for using women like Terri, Laurie, Jill and Jenn and for giving them the courage to reach out and recommend an alternative approach. I just have so much to be thankful for! Honestly, I still can’t grasp how this could have logically happened, it is still so surreal but I just know it had to be the work of God. Every doctor who viewed my reports told me my best chance was a calcified tumor that stopped growing. None of them ever considered a disappearance. Wow, God is great!
Up until last week all I could think about was the little time I might have left on this earth. And if this was the way He wanted me to go, then I needed to be ready. While I prayed for healing I was also preparing for Heaven. There is a quote by Plato that says, “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.” I don’t know where you are at today in your life but I want to assure you that God has a perfect plan for your situation. You may not know what that is and chances are none of us will ever know until we see Him again – all we can do is continue to trust God and live our lives for Him.
Ironically I heard this song multiple times throughout my journey:
I just want to take a moment to thank everyone for the prayers and support throughout all of this. A major challenge for me was putting my ego aside in order to let people in on the journey. But it wasn’t for me, it was for Him. And as the amazing Terri Brady would remind me, “compassion is showing your scars to someone with open wounds.” Just as she shared her scars with me, I hope to be able to do the same for others who are battling similar circumstances. I like to say that my life is just another reflection of God’s amazing grace. While I know I don’t deserve the many blessings He has given me, He still continues to love me anyways.
Events like this should serve as constant reminders to not take anything for granted. Each day we are given is special and we should always live it as such. No matter what I will continue to give God all the glory in everything I do with the time He gives me.
“For I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord. They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope. In those days when you pray, I will listen. If you look for me wholeheartedly, you will find me.” Jeremiah 29:11-13
Part 1: Trust God When Your Plans Change
Part 2: There is No Fear in Christ
Part 3: Blessed and Grateful
Part 5: Part 5 (Brain Tumor Sequel): Draw Closer to God