“Slashed, Poisoned and Burned and Still Standing*”

A year with Cancer

One year ago today, I woke up very early to head to the hospital for the results of a biopsy I had gotten two days earlier. Waiting 48 hours for test results is decidedly inhumane but I had kept myself busy with work and reassurances that nothing was wrong. Even the night before, my mom had come in to say goodnight and after a quick pow wow and assessment of the blood that lay dried on the tip of my nipple, we both concluded I was probably fine. I slept very soundly and woke up ready, if not for good news, then at worst, some mildly inconvenient news.

I approached the check-in desk, joking with my mom and the clerk about their insistence on always asking about my marital status before every appointment. Having just turned 30 two months before, my least favorite ritual was repeating over and over that I was single, childless and unemployed.

I sat in the waiting room of the breast center, the youngest in the vicinity by a long shot. Earlier in the week, knowing I was going to get results that day, I had tried to get an appointment with the world class breast specialist Dr. Silverstein. I was told that he didn’t see new patients unless there is a serious diagnosis and that I would have to see Dr. Guerra who was in the same office.

The nurse called my name to come with her and told my mom to go wait in a room while they checked my biopsy scar and bandages.

“Looks good!” she announced pleasantly. “You can go wait with your mom now. When you are done getting your results, you will see Dr. Silverstein.”

“Oh, I was told I couldn’t see him. I’m here to see Dr. Guerra,” I said, somewhat distractedly as I was attempting to put my shirt back on over mounds of gauze that covered my wound.

I looked up just in time to see her gaze drop.

“Um…yeah-uh I think you’re…uh…going to see Dr. Sil…,” her voice trailing off into a mumble as she hurried me out of the room.

Or maybe she said it clear as day. I wouldn’t know because from that point on,  I could only hear a fog horn blaring in my head. An all-encompassing moan of panic, as if an irate driver was laying on his steering wheel. In the five steps from that room to the room I was meeting my mom in, the equation crystallized in my head. If “x”, then “y”. Now, I’ve never been good at math but even with the persistent cacophony in my ears, I knew that “x” was Dr. Silverstein and “y” was bad news.

They led me to my mom, waiting in her own version of panic, in a nice room with a couch and chair. No exam table in sight. This was the bad news room.

“It’s happening!” I practically screamed as soon as the nurse shut the door, leaving us alone. I was borderline manic. I paced the room, unloading all of the evidence to support my theory, while my mom tried to calm me down. This has always been a familiar dynamic with us. She remains positive until proven wrong and I insist on being negative until I’m right. There was every reason to believe this was another instance of my mom talking down her dramatic daughter. But that damn horn was relentlessly screaming inside me and I knew what it was telling me.

The doctor finally came in to give us the results and before she could even ask how I was, I saw “Carcinoma” written on her chart. This time, being right did not feel good.

It’s been a year since that day. At times, it has felt like I’ve lived an entire decade since then. My body believes it’s 20 years older, having been thrust into menopause overnight. It seems comfortable, settling into it’s early retirement, happily getting rid of a lot of it’s duties and lavishly padding itself with the extra fat of a woman of leisure. My brain doesn’t feel the same way, mourning the loss of many parts of me. Some parts are tangible: every ounce of breast tissue was taken from me by a very skilled hand. But some things that were taken from me can’t be measured, such as the ability to ever think “It’s probably nothing.”

Some days I feel like a warrior. Some days I feel an absolute state of bliss as I attempt to relinquish control over things I can’t change. Sometimes I feel the support of thousands of people. Other days, I feel alone, though I never am. Some days, I feel cancer was the greatest gift I ever received. Other times, I feel robbed by a cunning and masterful thief who has ransacked my body, taken what it wanted and then put everything back almost the way they found it. For 365 days, I have been myself, plus something else.

As a musical theatre devotee, I can’t help but ask myself, “How do you measure, measure a year?” In vials of blood. In breasts lost. In dollars that chemo saved me in shampoo and bikini waxes. In dollars I spent in fantastic wigs. In the amount of people who have told me they’ve lost a loved one. In jokes I tried to make with my oncologists that landed flat (They’re a tough crowed). In tears. In more tears. In milestones. In “martini’s”. In the lessons I learned and the ones I’m still too stubborn to receive. In times I surprised myself. In minutes I’ve laughed when I should have cried. In times I felt loved.

Today, I will celebrate. I woke up with a partner who has never left my side since we met three weeks after being diagnosed. I will go to rehearsal for my Broadway show that I am deeply in love with. And maybe I’ll check in with my frozen eggs, the precursors of my family that is waiting for me when the time is right. Single, childless and unemployed no more.

I will seen my parents tomorrow to celebrate my dad’s birthday. Not in the way we celebrated last year, waiting for the results of a PET scan to see if the cancer had spread to other parts of my body, what my parents both describe as the worst day of their lives. No, this year we will have dinner and they will watch me open my 7th Broadway show.

And one more thing will be different today. Something that’s missing. What is it…?

Oh yeah. Cancer.


*This quote was taken from a comment on my first blog post. I’m very gratefully re-purposing it for the title because I loved it.

25 thoughts on ““Slashed, Poisoned and Burned and Still Standing*”

  1. Such a great entry, and a wonderful attitude. I knew there was a reason you’ve become my favorite actor on Broadway. May this coming year bring even more joy and happiness to you and your loved ones.

  2. To me you embody strength -and I adore it. Your writing is so truthful , so raw and provides an insight into the world of cancer that I cannot even begin to imagine. Thank you for writing a blog that is both revealing and inspiring.You deserve every happiness!

  3. So very glad you’ve made it to today with wonderful things happening for you, being back on Broadway, being back on television, having the people you love able to celebrate alongside you. Thank you so much for sharing with us.

  4. I’m in awe of your strength. How through all this you’re rehearsing and then doing 8 shows a week which takes a toll on healthy people. I have no doubt you’re going to be fine (and you look great in a pixie cut) I just lost a former colleague to breast cancer which she had been fighting for over 2 years. She leaves 2 kids 6 and 2. She was 34. I’m devastated. It’s so rare to lose people to this disease these days.

  5. Definitely cried while reading this. So happy to hear that you’re cancer free and in such a good place – what a difference a year can make! I had the opportunity to see you in Spring Awakening this past Monday and loved it so much I was back the following night. Your performance brought me to tears repeatedly and I’m forever grateful that I was finally able to see you on Broadway. Break a leg opening night ❤️

  6. Thank God you had that support system from Minute One and have sought out (and received) the support of those around you and all of us Out Here. My father chose to investigate the first signs of his cancer by himself…for nine months, as it turns out…before talking to me…the day he was officially diagnosed with his bladder cancer. Then once I began my commute from Florida to New Jersey to walk with him through his procedures (as the poster child for Planned Parenthood, I was it…), I was not allowed to tell anyone he had a problem. God forbid anyone know he was anything less than Superman.

    You have been doing it the right way and don’t ever stop.

    While it is thrilling to see you soldier on and now back on The Great White Way where you belong, you cannot take your success for granted. Do not withdraw your sentries, because cancer is an insidious and determined foe.

    I pray that you will forevermore be able to proclaim “I’m cancer free!”

  7. Yay, I am so proud of you. What a difference a year makes. Today is my one year anniversary of my last chemo!! Yay for being cancer free. I hope to travel to New York in 2016 and see you on Broadway!

  8. Reading this I couldn’t have said it better. You are a warrior stay strong and fight on ! Thank you for writing these for everyone going through this with you God bless

  9. You are kick ass and we love you for it. I don’t think there was ever any doubt that when it came to you or cancer, you’d be kicking it hard out the door. Keep being fabulous, we’d not have you any other way!

  10. we have the same unwanted “birthday” 24 sept. i have been thinking of you this past week and wondering how you were doing, so thank you for the update. i wish you continued success and am happy to have read your posts this past year which i found amusing, sad and similar.

    kindest regards,k.

  11. You’re such an inspiration. I’ve been following your blog from the first entry, and I am just so happy for you, and proud of you. I can’t wait to see you perform live, you have a fan (not just of your work, but of the person you are) for life. Thank you for sharing with us, and being a champion for others in the same circumstances.

  12. Krysta – You are an inspiration! Wishing you every happiness! Have an amazing opening! Can’t wait to come see it! Much Love to you!! xo, Aimee

  13. Thank you for being so brave to share your story with your fans. Your talent and beauty (inner and outer) are so inspiring! I saw Spring Awakening a couple of weeks ago and may have to break my “no repeat” rule to see it again. Simply amazing! Keep fighting the good fight with your incredible attitude : ) Big hugs!

  14. You said it all beautifully….and as that chapter closes – a new one opens… Just think what a difference a year as made and another and another… I am sure as the curtain opens tomorrow so will your heart and emotions. Congrats! Let all those emotions flow through you like waves of an ocean – so proud of you!

  15. Krysta, you truly are the warrior and the victorious! Your depth of expressing and sharing emotions and your personal journey never cease to inspire! What a year! And…. So glad you are back on Broadway where you belong! Although it’s now Fall, how fitting the title Spring Awakening!

  16. I not going to lie, that last line brought tears to my eyes. I am so very happy for you and maybe one day I can make it north and tell you in person. It would be my honor.

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