Apple's newest phone is the iOS 13. I've had at least as many upgrades; maybe I can consider myself Kirsten version 13.0.
There have been many life experiences that moved me from a before version to an after version of myself. It's the same me, but with significant changes - more memory, functions, and an upgraded camera/perspective. We all experience life-defining events and decisions - some we choose, some choose us. For example, moving from single to married, childless to parenthood, naive to aware, and having a loved one with us to losing them.
Once the defining line has been drawn, there is no going back. It's like that with cancer. Kirsten before cancer is different than Kirsten after the cancer diagnosis. I'm still in transformation. I'm becoming. Well, we are always in the process of becoming, but life-defining moments put us on a transformation fast track.
Speaking to a MOPS group in Fall 2021.
My life-shifting experiences changed me for the better. I believe major life changes always offer an upgrade, if we are able to receive it. After we lost our first child, Chloe Faith, in utero at 20 weeks, a friend shared about her sister. She had a stillbirth of multiples and was understandably devastated. Her psychiatrist husband prescribed hardcore pills to ease her grief and she was still on them 10 years later, completely numbed by the drugs. My friend lost the chance to be an aunt and her sister. Her story made a significant impression. I didn't want our loss and hardship to take me down. I wanted it to be used for good, to change me, not break me. By the grace of God, I believe that happened.
We've all seen people who did not/could not lean into an upgrade and instead were consumed by pain and negativity. It is heartbreaking. When I look back on the last 20 years of my life, I am thankful that the hardships have transformed me into a better version of myself. I can't take credit for it - there were lots of people who helped me heal, grow, change, and become more emotionally healthy. I'm not bragging, I'm incredibly thankful.
Cancer is bringing the latest upgrade. At least that is the perspective I'm keeping as I walk this journey. Kirsten before Cancer has been upgraded to Kirsten Surviving Cancer - and there is no going back. The diagnosis came less than 2 months ago and I can already see things that have changed me for the better.
There is also massive grief and sadness associated with becoming a cancer survivor. What was is gone - naivety, forgetfulness of the fragility of life, and the ignorance of thinking that cancer was "out there" instead of "inside of me."
I felt it when I spoke this month. My bio and introduction slides are pre-cancer Kirsten. But she isn't here anymore. She has been integrated and upgraded into Cancer Survivor Kirsten. It's not just the hair and the boobs that are gone, there is something much deeper being transformed within.
Promo for pre-cancer Kirsten at Mariners MOPS in September 2021.
My therapist is helping me process the loss of what was and it is an invitation to consider how I want to walk through this transforming season. My plan was to continue speaking during treatment when it fit into my chemo schedule. I wouldn't create new content, I would only present BELOVED. I love this talk and believed it would benefit me and the listeners. Tim, my therapist, helped me see that each time I gave the presentation, (in my words, not Tim's) I'd be returning to pre-cancer Kirsten. In essence, I'd be impersonating and going back to who I was - not reflecting who I am now.
Each time I speak, I prepare professionally and emotionally. For the most part, I step out of whatever is happening in my life and I focus on the audience. I will make a reference to something that happened that day or recently, but for the most part, I share the same illustrations each time I give the presentation. It's not inauthentic. It's not wrong. But it reflects who I was when I wrote this presentation, before cancer. God is doing a new thing.
The question for me to consider - how do I want to use this time in treatment? Fully leaning into the experience, feelings, and transformation that is happening right now, or stepping out of my current reality to put on a pre-cancer Kirsten mask to speak? There may be a way to integrate both, but I don't have the energy to figure that out. It would be a disservice to myself and others to try to put words to something that is still being formed and changing. I will share the transformation in real-time on this blog.
Speaking is my sweet spot. I LOVE it! It fuels me and strengthens my connection with myself + God. Connecting and encouraging women (and men - you are always welcome) adds joy and meaning to my life, and gives purpose to my pain and experiences. It feels good to speak. My pride loves to hear when I've done a good job, made an audience laugh, or receive a compliment. The response from everyone after I spoke this month could be addictive.
There is also an Enneagram 3, Achiever, shame-inducing moralist dictator in my head that whispers to me.
"I SHOULD speak. I have a responsibility. I should say yes when someone asks. I can't just focus on myself and not DO something."
The shame-based thoughts breed more fear.
"What if I say no and don't get invited to speak ever again? If I don't say yes it could all be over." This voice is like a panicked chipmunk - squeaky, fast-talking, and dramatic.
"If I never get invited to speak, I won't have anything to do and I will have to BE. That would be horrible - I better say yes to speaking so I can avoid that!!!"
These are my actual thoughts. Sweet Baby Jesus, help me.
Kirsten, stop the insanity and breathe.
Silence the chipmunk. I am not in danger.
Interrupting my emotions to avoid feelings isn't good for me, interrupting my thinking to avoid neurosis is essential. God bless us all who are working on this.
After all the mental ping pong, it comes down to a simple question I often find myself returning to.
"Kirsten, do you want to be a human being or a human doing?"
Doing is my default, so this question asks me if I'm willing to choose the hard thing. Will I allow myself to wade into the murky, scary feelings of loss, grief, sadness, uncertainty, powerlessness, and fear that cancer brings? Or do I want to escape from reality, put on the pre-cancer Kirsten mask, grab a mic and act like I'm not 2 months into a cancer diagnosis and undergoing chemo? I can't be present to my reality and present to an audience at the same time. It is either/or. Maybe not for everyone - but it is for me right now.
If I lean into now, what I'm feeling and experiencing during active treatment, I know transformation will occur, and I'll be more present to notice it. Instead of speaking on the message God gave me a year ago, I can hear the message He is crafting in me in this season. He will use this transformation and give me a new message. Where do I want to direct my mind and heart? To what was or what is becoming and will be?
It's time to lean into this holy and sacred season. I've canceled all speaking engagements until August. Ugh, my heart feels the loss, but I also know that being present in this moment is the right decision.
This is a season to journal, feel, talk, process, read and listen. To be and do things that nurture and welcome healing, wholeness, and transformation. I expect it will be beautiful and brutal, holy and hard. That's life. That is the journey. Yet, I believe it will be a thousand times worth it. Thank you for walking alongside me.
A reminder for myself. Kirsten, you are enough, even if you aren't speaking.