Finding ways to live in full light, when darkness is taking over
By: Kelly Kabotoff
My dad always said that I don’t have a dimmer switch. That I’m either ON or I’m OFF. There is no in between. And usually I’m on … full blast. Most people who know me would agree. I walk into a room like a force of nature. A burst of energy and a hug, followed by a laugh and a big smile, and then I command the stage to share whatever it is that has me excited at that moment. For better or worse, I’ve been going full throttle like this my whole life. And for the last six years, much of this energy was focused on beating the Lake and Company drum. I went all in on this entrepreneurial journey and thrived in the excitement of it all. The challenge. The people. The thrill of the unknown. It totally turned me on, until the universe threw me a curveball that knocked me flat — cancer.
Suddenly the only thing that mattered was fighting to stay alive. Everything else just went away. I know people say that things like this completely shift your life. And you sure as hell never see it coming. Out of nowhere I got separated into two completely different people. The person BEFORE, and the person AFTER. It happened in an instant. And for a moment I didn’t recognize myself. For a moment, it was just darkness.
It all started with a pain in my belly. That was all. No other symptoms of concern. Probably just a pulled muscle, I thought, but something I should get checked out. That simple appointment turned into a CT scan, and I expected to get a call from the doctor the following morning. But at 9:00 that night, my phone dinged. I had a MyChart test result waiting, and against my better judgment, I opened it up and read …
IMPRESSION: The combination of above findings is very concerning for a neoplasm involving the sigmoid colon with metastatic disease to the liver.
I didn’t have to be a doctor to know that “metastatic” wasn’t what you wanted, and a quick Google search confirmed my assumption that “neoplasm” was basically a fancy word for cancer.
Over the next few weeks it was confirmed that I had stage 4 colon cancer that had spread to my liver. It only took another quick Google search to find out what that meant statistically, and it only took one look in the mirror to decide that I am not a statistic. I made a decision, and my new state of mind was set. I chose love and light over fear and darkness.
I made some other important choices that day. One of those was to approach this with honesty and transparency with everyone around me. My ex-husband and I told our four young kids together, and we didn’t shy away from words like “cancer” when we did it. We knew it was scary, but we wanted them to know that we would always be honest with them and that we were going to fight this together. I told our team at Lake and Company with the honesty and humor I always try to bring to the table, including a really bad “I have cancer” song and dance. And I shared all the details, good and bad, with my community of friends and family over social media and through my CaringBridge site. And I mean everything. From my attempts to make a poop bag sexy, to combating my fear with badass shoes and shitty jokes (pun intended), I continue to put it all out there. This path of full disclosure isn’t for everyone, but it’s how I’ve always lived my life. And I believe that this vulnerable approach has created a space where conversation around colon cancer can happen.
I also chose to fight this from every direction I could. Since my diagnosis, I have endured major colon surgery, complete with a temporary colostomy (aka the poop bag that is saving my life), and multiple rounds of chemotherapy. The next few months will bring liver resection surgery, more chemotherapy, and, hopefully, the reversal of my colostomy. The goal is NED (no evidence of disease) and poop bag free by summer. But things can always change. I am supplementing my Western medicine care with many other healing practices, including acupuncture, meditation, energy healing, support groups, diet and exercise, and I’ve even enlisted a cancer coach to help me navigate my new normal.
And I chose to slow down … but not to dim my light. Something I didn’t know I could do. The go, go, go was all I knew. And like so many Americans, I defined myself in many ways by what I did, not who I was. But nonetheless, I stopped working, with the support of everyone around me, including our team, so I could decrease my stress and focus on my health and my kids. It was harder than I like to admit, partially because putting an extrovert at home … in bed … alone … is basically hell. But when the fog cleared, I realized I could see everything brighter, I could hear everything clearer, and I could feel all the love around me. My kids’ laughter. The fall leaves. Every hug. It was all on full blast, even in the silence. And my light was still bright, even in my pain.
Some things I’ve learned so far …
Trust your gut, and check your colon. You are the only one who can hear it, so don’t push that little voice aside. Trust yourself and advocate for your life, healthwise and otherwise. And if you are 40+, don’t be a wuss and go get a colonoscopy.
My shit stinks, and so does yours. So let’s be kind to each other and show some grace. We are all doing the best we can in this crazy, crazy world. Also — don’t forget to surround yourself with people who will call you out on your shit when needed and love you anyway. Because sometimes we need that too (even when you’re shitting in an ostomy bag).
You are not chopped liver (even if you have a chopped liver). I didn’t know the ripple effect that my light had on the people around me. It’s been a crazy experience to hear that friends and acquaintances alike, from all over the country, feel that I have positively affected their lives. That I’ve inspired them, in the past or through my posts since my diagnosis. Don’t ever doubt that you matter to the world. Don’t dim your light. The world needs you.
Follow Kelly’s journey on her blog, The Dimmer Switch, at thedimmerswitchblog.com
Colorectal Cancer Alliance – https://www.ccalliance.org/
Colon Cancer Coalition – https://coloncancercoalition.org/
Fight Colorectal Cancer – https://fightcolorectalcancer.org/
Read more of our stories in Issue 24 of Lake and Company.