For some time I've been meaning to write out the details of my senior year in college - the cancer diagnosis and treatments I went through. I can't find the rest of the pictures but will add them when I do and am still editing. My friends have been reminding me of things I'd forgotten, so I am adding to the story daily. Thank you my friends for your sweet, sweet words. I was and am blessed by each of you!! That time together built a strong foundation for incredible friendships and I am grateful for each of you today!!
This story is long and keeps getting longer! The more I write the more details I remember. I forever want to remember this time in my life. Jesus met me in a sweet way and carried me through with joy.
September 1997 I was 21 and a senior at Westmont College, living in the dorms and loving my life in Santa Barbara, CA. Towards the middle of September I began to feel weird. I was bloated, my tummy was sticking out (and I was in shape at the time), I would throw up randomly, and my tummy was tender to the touch. I went to the college Medical Center several times and they kept telling me I had a bladder infection and giving me medicine for it. One weekend a big group of us went to Las Vegas to shop and hang out and eat at all the buffets. The entire weekend I felt so sick and was anxious to get back and check on the results of my urine sample. The next morning I called the Center and they said they'd lost my sample. I was very frustrated. I gave more urine samples and visited the campus Medical Center several times. I felt like I wasn't getting any better and the Medical Center wasn't taking me seriously. I remember being on the phone with my mom and saying, "Mom, I'm starting to wonder if something is really wrong with me?" One night I felt a weird lump under the skin on my tummy and decided I should see a "real" doctor.
The next morning I got on the phone and tried to find a friend that could go with me. All my friends were taking midterm finals and couldn't go with me. I told Dr. Hernandez at the Westmont Medical Center that I thought I should see another doctor. He got on the phone and called an Urologist. They "just happened" to have a cancellation and told me to come in immediately.
I arrived at the office and stripped down. I'd never been to a gynecologist before...no one had ever been...uhhhh...down there. It was mortifying for me and I was alone. The doctor asked if I could possibly be pregnant - I assured him it was impossible. He assured me it was NOT impossible. He examined me, as I sobbed and held the nurses hand, and then announced that I was in fact a virgin. He found some type of mass and after some different tests called for some X-Rays. They "just happened" to have an opening right away. The Urologist told me the doctor who was doing the x-rays would give me the X-rays and then I was supposed to bring them back to him. He was a very kind man and he wanted to explain to me what they found. I got several different x-rays, sonograms and ultrasounds. When they did the MRI they made me go to the bathroom several times because they thought my bladder was full. They finally told me they had found a "grapefruit size mass". They said an ovarian cyst in someone my age is common - but there was a possibility of it being cancer.
The doctor had me call my parents, who were at a retreat in Breckenridge, so he could explain to them what was going on. My dad answered the phone, I told him what I knew and he said mom would call when she got back to the room (this was back in the day of no cell phones). My parents finally called and the doctor talked to them. He explained that I would probably need to have surgery in a couple weeks to have the mass removed - to determine if it was cancer. We were all positive it was a cyst. My mom picked up her Bible, opened it and her eyes fell on Isaiah 59:21 "As for me, this is my covenant to you, My Spirit who is on you will not depart from your mouth or from your offspring or from the mouths of your offspring’s offspring". She immediately began to plead the blood of Jesus over my female organs and her future grandchildren.
The gynecologist examined me and immediately felt the mass. I needed surgery ASAP. Surgery was scheduled for the next morning, October 10th 1997, at 8 am. I vividly remember talking to my parents in the doctor's office. We were scared and confused. My parents flew into a flurry of activity - throwing their clothes into their suitcase, driving 3 hours home so they could repack, purchasing a flight to CA, calling friends and family, etc. They got on a flight that arrived in Los Angeles at 2 am. In the meantime, I got checked into the hospital. My parents rented a car, drove to Santa Barbara and arrived at the hospital around 4 am. We all huddled in the small room and tried to rest the few hours we had until the surgery. It was a long weekend and all my friends had gone home because they thought I wouldn't have surgery for a couple of weeks.
Early in the morning the nurses started coming in to prepare me. I had no idea what was about to hit me...an enema, several enemas. I cried and cried. They had to clean me out before surgery. Let me say this: nothing should EVER go UP the butt, God did NOT intend for that to happen, it is WRONG in every way. That is an exit, not an entrance. Sorry for being graphic but it is a pretty good torture tactic. They said they just needed to do it a couple times until everything was cleared out. It turned into 3, 4, then 5...and I still wasn't clean...finally they had to get me to surgery and I was rescued.
As they wheeled me into surgery the Urologist (the one who told me I couldn't be a virgin) assured my family he would stay by my side, hold my hand and talk to me the rest of the way. He was an angel and so kind. I was crying, my family was crying, we were all scared. The scariest part was that I'd signed a Release Form for them to do a full hysterectomy if they determined the tumor was cancerous. Not knowing if I would be able to have children in a few hours was terrifying.
During surgery the tumor was removed but the pathologists couldn't determine if it was cancerous. After a considerable amount of time they decided they had to sew me up without doing a hysterectomy. This was the hand of God protecting my female organs. Samples of the tumor were shipped all over the US to pathologists.
I woke up groggy and asked my family if I was okay. They assured me everything was fine. Everyone was amazed because I didn't have much pain after the surgery. God provided amazing nurses. I would wake up in the middle of the night scared and unable to move (they had cut my stomach muscles so I couldn't move at all without help). There was a sweet, black nurse that would come in when I was scared - she would hold my hand, talk to me and read me Bible verses. There were so many nurses that would tell me I was going to be fine. God placed so many "angels" around me. My friends were still gone and had no idea I was in the hospital. Many of them found out from a campus wide voicemail Sunday evening. Remember, this was in the days of no cell phones and email was rare.
It took time to recover from the 10" vertical scar below my belly button. It felt like my insides were going to fall out. Sitting up, standing up and then getting out of bed to go the bathroom were a huge ordeal. I was not happy about the scar. I wouldn't look at it for a couple weeks and my mom was really worried about me. However, now it is a reminder of God's sovereignty.
I was released from the hospital Tuesday morning, my surgery was the previous Saturday. We still didn't know if the tumor was cancerous. My parents had the sweetest room in a hotel nearby. This room was filled with peace and laughter as we waited to hear from the doctor. My friends would come by and visit daily. They brought me pj's without waste bands - due to my incision (I still have the pj's - they are such a sweet memory of my friends' love). My parents finally told the hotel front desk to hold all our calls and take messages (remember, no cell phones or email back then). It was exhausting for them to be continually on the phone answering questions.
Friday afternoon (October 16, 1997) my mom got a hold of the doctor who had performed the surgery. As she talked to her and learned the news we all held our breath. After 7 days of waiting a doctor in Boston had determined it was Clear Cell Carcinoma. This cancer is typically found in 60 year old women. Ovarian Cancer is especially difficult to find because there aren't noticeable symptoms. As she got off the phone and told us it was cancer, I remember screaming and crying at the top of my lungs. We all huddled together and cried as we prepared for the road ahead. The doctor told my mom I needed to recover and I was not to travel or go back to school for 6 more weeks. After talking and praying my parents decided that was ridiculous and that we headed back to CO immediately (I agreed with their decision:-). We had so many questions: What caused the tumor? How long had it been there? Was there any way it could have been prevented? There weren't answers for our questions.
We flew back to Colorado to see Dr. Kevin Davis. He said if I was his daughter, he would suggest chemo. They'd removed the entire tumor but if the cancer returned it would be less aggressive if I had gone through chemo. I was at peace and knew chemo was the right move. Dr. Davis is still my doctor and I remember him saying, during that first consultation, "Kymberly, you will dance on my grave." God surrounded me with amazing support. We asked if I could go through treatment in CA so I could be with my friends and graduate with them, on time. He said he didn't know, every patient responds differently. We decided I would start treatment in CA and if I couldn't do it, I would come home. What a huge blessing!!
Many people questioned our decision to move forward with medical treatment. These people had convictions about either "natural treatments" or about trusting God to heal me through prayer alone. I am thankful that my parents always taught me to stand up for what I believe in. We all felt peace about moving forward with chemotherapy, so we didn't waver when others told us we should be making different decisions.
I returned to CA and was welcomed by signs all over campus. There was a huge sign on the dorm that said "Welcome Back Kymberly". My professors were extremely supportive as I worked to make up 2 weeks of school (that’s right, I went back after 2 weeks...not 6!!). One year long course I was taking was known to be one of the most difficult at Westmont. The professor sat me down and told me that he had some "fatherly" advice for me. He said that I had already missed 2 weeks of school and he didn't see anyway I could keep up with school AND make up 2 weeks of school AND go through chemo treatments. I said, "Thank you very much. I will take that into consideration." This was probably the best thing he could have said to me - inside I said, "You just watch me!!"
After returning to school I received 5-10 cards and letters DAILY from friends, family and people I had never met. I was inundated with words of love, support, prayers and encouragement. It was incredible. I STILL meet people that say, "We've never met, but I prayed for you during your treatments and have continued to pray for you." That is overwhelming, what a blessing!! I remember how tired I got of praying during that year, I got to the point where I no longer knew what or how to pray. That is the point where the Lord raises others up to pray so you can rest. The Lord had my family and I covered in pray.
November 2 1997, I started the first round of chemo. My mom and our good friend, Sharon, flew in for a week. My dad had something going on and couldn't come out for that first treatment. My mom and I sat across from Dr. Wayne Kidder that morning at the Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital Cancer Center. He said he didn't think it would be possible for me to stay in school AND go through treatments. I looked him in the eye and said, "Watch me."
At my first treatment I sobbed as they started the IV. None of us knew what lay ahead for my body. I had my mom read me Bible verses. I would get so tense before each treatment that the nurses always had a hard time getting the IV in place. They would wrap my arms in warm towels so my veins would be easier to find.
At the first treatment a lady sat next to me that had on a beautiful wig that looked totally natural. She told us where she purchased it. My mom and a couple friends and I made a day of choosing a wig. We made it as fun as possible. I was sad because I had to have a wig with bangs. After we bought the wig we went and got my hair cut to the same length as the wig. We did everything we could to make the transition as smooth as possible.
God continually provided moments of joy. One of the things I will never forget includes Sharon. One morning we were preparing to go to the first treatment and mom and I were still sleeping in the hotel. Sharon returned to the room with a black eye and told us she was walking on the bike path along the ocean and someone RAN HER OVER WITH THEIR BICYCLE!! She even had visible tire tracks up the back of her body!! It's really not funny because she was hurt and hit her face on the cement - but it really was hilarious!! We laughed and laughed about that!! Who gets run over by a bike? Apparently, Sharon does in Santa Barbara, CA!! Her eye was bruised and swollen. Everywhere we went people would stare at her and ask what happened. When she told them a bike had run over her and they would look at her like....."yeah, right". Just the dose of laughter we needed.
My parents flew in for every treatment, which were every 3 weeks, and stayed for a week. The staff at the Red Lion hotel where they stayed was incredible. When my parents arrived - the hotel delivered chocolate covered strawberries and a note of support, signed by the entire staff, and gave them a great rate on an amazing room overlooking the ocean.
The doctor said that 100% of my hair would fall out within 2 weeks of the first treatment. My hair started to fall out gradually a few days after the first treatment. I did everything I could to keep it from coming out. I would have my mom wash my hair in the tub so less hair would fall out, Peggy would brush and blow dry it for me. They would try to be so gentle so that it wouldn't come out. I would ask my mom if much came out - now she tells me how hard it was to have so much hair coming out in her hands and then try to tell me not much had fallen out. I lost my eyebrows, eyelashes, arm hair, leg hair, and ALL body hair. I remember that I had just 2 or 3 eyelashes left and Peggy, my roommate, told me that I should trim them. I was so sad because I was trying to hold on to my last normal eyelashes for as long as possible. She was right though - it was time to say goodbye to those last eyelashes. I found it extremely humorous that I had ZERO body hair. I would often stand naked in front of the mirror and then call one of my suitemates to come into my room...imagine their surprise when I was standing there totally naked. I had to share how funny my hairless body looked!!
A month and a half after starting chemo you could see that my hairline was receding. It was time to wear the wig. I started wearing it in CO over Thanksgiving break. It was not fun but the transition was easier than just pulling it out one day at school.
One night I was in the bathroom getting ready for bed. I had my hair (not much of it) in a teeny tiny ponytail, I had a headband on and was washing my face. Robin came in and started laughing and said, "It's a good thing you have that headband on Kymberly!!" It was SO funny. I started laughing, she started laughing. I had just been doing my regular routine without realizing I didn't need a headband to hold my hair back anymore!! We still laugh about that today!! What a blessing it was to be surrounded by friends I could laugh with - my life was truly filled with joy.
Looking back I should have shaved my head once my hair started falling out but I was holding onto to every single strand for as long as possible. If you look closely you can see a few eyelashes that hadn't fallen out yet in this picture.
I only threw up a handful of times during the chemo treatments. Thank the Lord the anti-nausea medicine worked. After each treatment I was extremely susceptible to getting sick because my immune system was down. My skin would itch, all the way down to the bone, and I couldn't do anything about it. My feet, my legs, you name it - it itched. I would cry and cry and cry. Whenever I came home I would sit in a bath because it was the only time I didn't itch. I spent Thanksgiving of that year in the bathtub, crying.
There are a lot of funny stories from living in the dorms with my friends - it was the perfect place for me. I had no time to get depressed!! I was so thankful my parents had instilled in me the resolve to finish things that I started. Many people told me I should quit school and go home for my treatments, they said would quit if they were me. Looking back, staying in school with my friends and all the distractions of college life, kept me positive and upbeat. My senior year was filled with some of my best memories. Yes, I was sick and tired and lost my hair, but I dealt with those things as they occurred - instead of focusing on them 24 hours a day, which is what I would have done if I had been home in CO without all the distractions.
I lived in the dorms with Peggy and Dana; across the hall were Karen, Robin and Joanne. I didn't know Karen, Robin and Joanne very well - but they were the perfect suite mates and are now good friends!! They would rub my head, rub my back and help me do some modeling with my dwindling hairline. I was surrounded by fun, Godly, supportive friends!! Peggy would rub my head with Nioxin (a formula that is supposed to keep you from losing your hair), they would help me put my wig on when I was going out. Sometimes people would come in the room and my wig would be on the desk - Robin would try and hide the wig and I would be trapped in the bathroom until the person left.
One thing everyone in our suite remembers is "Shout to the Lord". When I spent time with the Lord I would always play praise music. Shout to the Lord became my song. I would lock the door and blast this song on repeat as I prayed and worshipped. My suitemates would get annoyed because they needed to study or were trying to take a nap and all they could hear was "Shout to the Lord, All the earth let us sing, power and majesty, praise to the King...mountains bow down and the seas will roar at the sound of Your Name..." They would continually come over and ask me to turn my music down.
One night I pulled dinner out of the oven at a friends' house and the fumes singed the bangs of my wig to my eyelashes (what I had left) so I had to trim the bangs. One day my car died and I was walking back to the dorms and it started raining, I had never gotten my wig wet so I freaked out! It turned out that my wig actually looked better after a good washing!! Imagine that!!
My family flew into town for my final chemo treatment. My brother surprised me and showed up at the airport in disguise, there is never a dull moment with Kyle...
We all went out to eat after the treatment was finished. We then headed back to one of my friends homes. As we walked in I was shocked to find that Peggy had planned a surprise celebration for me!! There was a huge sign that said "Congrats Kymberly" and all my favorite people were there to celebrate!! What an amazing way to finish things off!! It is hard to surprise me and I didn't have a clue she was planning anything (Thanks Peggy)!!
Once I finished treatments I had an especially difficult time emotionally. I felt like everyone else had moved on - but I still didn't have hair and my body was still not back to "normal". I remember the day of our Senior Formal. My parents surprised me with a beautiful red dress but I felt anything but beautiful. While my friends were busy getting their hair professionally done I was having a breakdown. I had a wig with bangs that I hated. There weren't many choices for me. You want your final Formal to be the best - you want to feel your best. I also didn't have eyelashes or eyebrows. I eventually figured out that I could put my hair up into a twist by using strands of hair to cover the edge of the wig. I don't remember exactly how everything came about but I know that I ended up feeling beautiful and having an amazing time.
I was ecstatic once my hair started growing back!! I would ask Karen, Robin, Joanne, Dana or Peggy to measure my hair with a ruler daily. Robin would always say, "Kymberly I just measured it yesterday - I don't think it has grown any since then." I would beg her to do it anyway. :) She always obliged me!
Remember the Professor that told me I should quit? Well, he was floored as I got A's on all my tests throughout the year and especially when I got an A in his course! I still have the note he wrote me when I graduated (I need to go dig that out!!) I got the highest grades of my college career during my Senior Year. Walking across the stage and graduating on time with all my friends was a dream come true for me.
Rachael has my wig on!!
My bald head and my friend Jess!
Here I am hairless!!
This is what my hair looked like when it first started growing back in!
Here is the continuation of my hair growing in - I HATED the curliness!!
People said a lot of stupid things. This is one of the classic stories. I was working at Focus on the Family the summer after my Senior Year. My hair was curly, curly, curly - I hated it. I worked in the Guest Relations department and was restocking the coffee station one day. One of the guests said, "Was there a power outage today?" I replied that there hadn't been one that I knew of. He said, "Well, did you stick your finger in a light socket?" Absolute shock set in as I realized that this man had the nerve to make fun of my hair. I'd had so many people make stupid comments that I decided not to stand by and just let it happen. I replied, "No, actually I just finished chemotherapy and my hair is just growing back in and it happens to be curly." This man and his wife were flabbergasted and started backpedaling and trying to say everything they could to make the situation better. I think he learned a lesson.
As you know we now have our amazing Levi Asher Williams. Truly a miracle. He is truly amazing. I could not ask for more. I was diagnosed October 16, 1997 with Ovarian Cancer. Levi Asher Williams was due to be born on October 16, 2007 - the 10 year anniversary. Amazing, God's Sovereignty, Miraculous, Thank You Jesus. The story isn't done yet...more amazing children to come (no, I am not pregnant)!!