You Came to See a Race.

Look up.   Because that’s where I’m looking.

I’m in full recovery mode now, having come through surgery last Friday with flying colors. I’m achy and taking my time to get all my mobility and strength back. But, my sense of “self” has slowly and solidly come back as the chemo departs from my body. And in even better news, the results of the lymph node biopsy conducted during surgery (bilateral mastectomy) were negative. Basically this means that while the cancer I had was aggressive and invasive, it hadn’t yet spread to the lymphatic system. Hallelujah! This also means that I don’t have to undergo radiation treatment. But the best news of all? Today the doctors gave me the news that I am now essentially cancer free. (can I get a woop woop?)

Emma made me this hat to honor me on surgery day. We are all celebrating the beginning of the end.

One of the advantages of waiting for surgery until after chemo treatment (not the typical order of things) is that I could actually mark the regression of the tumor in terms of the size. So, as I reported every three weeks for chemo duty, I could actually see how fast the cancer itself was retreating. In my case, I started with a tumor the size of a ping pong ball. Doesn’t sound that big but this was considered sizable and an indication of how quickly I needed to start treatment. I’ll never forget when I was initially examined, one of the doctors exclaimed “remarkable!” Not something you want to hear when you’re anxiously awaiting prognosis.

Bling-bling.

After 18 weeks of chemo, the tumor basically shrank to a point that even the ultrasound could barely find it. In order to keep track of things, the doctors inserted a teeny-tiny “clip” during the initial biopsy that was shaped like a breast cancer ribbon and made of titanium. When I did my last round of imaging, the only thing that they could really find was this bit of “inner bling” that adorned the original tumor site.  That was a happy day that found me shining inside and out.  

I know that all that poison in the form of chemo drugs is a major reason for all the positive news I’m sharing with you. And I am extremely grateful for all the advances in modern science that benefit us today. But I also seriously credit many of the other “treatments” that were offered to me during this bumpy ride.

Things like Winter Worm, Summer Grass. Coco, my dear friend from Shanghai, came to my home the first week after diagnosis and told me she had something important to give to me. Then she bestowed upon me a small plastic box with Chinese writing on the top that held what looked like a bunch of dried worms. “Hmmm,” I said, trying to sound open to her enthusiasm. Then she told me the story of this amazing Chinese medicine. It’s a little strange, but stick with me! It’s also pretty wonderful.

Winter Worm, Summer Grass

Worth it's weight in gold!

Known also as caterpillar fungi or cordyceps, Winter Worm, Summer Grass is essentially a magic mushroom (but not the kind you’re thinking of!). A specific kind of caterpillar is found in alpine grass and shrublands at an altitude between 9800 and 16000 feet in Tibet and the Himalayas. During the five years it spends underground, it is attacked by a fungus that invades the caterpillar body, kills it, and basically mummifies it. The mushroom takes over the caterpillar body and emerges from the ground in spring or early summer to take on a similar looking form. These “mushrooms” are harvested and dried and sold for a very high price as a prized medicine that is said to fight AIDS, cancer and aging. Coco had traveled to Tibet in the past year and was handing over her private store to help me in my fight. Quite a gift given that it’s as valuable as French truffles!  After doing some of my own reading, I embraced this alternative treatment whole heartedly (my acupuncturist Gerri was very excited to know I had some real cordyceps… as she told me, we grow them over here in Petri dishes!).

My good friend Coco and I on a recent trip to Tokyo.

During chemo I steeped one of these dried mushrooms daily in simmering water and drank the potion. Smells kinda weird but tastes a little bit like chicken broth and always made me feel better. Later when I was foraging for information on one of my late night internet searches, I read with delight a thesis that showed that Winter Worm Summer Grass has actually been proven to inhibit breast cancer cell growth. Hmmm, indeed.

Holy, Healing Dirt, Batman!

My Uncle Wendell (fondly called Uncle Weirdo by all the Hoyt cousins) also played an important and quirky role in this battle. In the early days he sent me an envelope in the mail which included a small Ziploc bag filled with what looked like dirt. And that’s just what it was. Apparently he had collected what he calls “Holy Healing Dirt” from an old Spanish Catholic church in Chimayo, Mexico five years ago. He had administered it to both his cat Kinky to cure her kitty seizures as well as to mend his suddenly itchy and rashy back and was sharing his last bit with me. After getting a good laugh, I willingly applied most of it to my rogue left breast. I haven’t told anyone yet but I saved a little bit and plan to spread it on my still shiny dome to encourage new and bountiful hair growth!

And in a final story, I bow to my friend Tim, who shared something very precious with me rooted in the all-powerful religion of running. Around my third chemo treatment in mid May, I received a small box in the mail. Upon opening it I found a note from him and a big, bold bronze colored medal from the Eugene 2010 Marathon with a fittingly green and yellow Duck-colored ribbon. He had apparently set a personal quest in high school to run 26 marathons in his life (one for every mile of a marahon). He met his goal this spring with the Eugene race and he gave me his medal to cheer me on. And if that wasn’t enough, he also sent this quote from the Chariots of Fire movie. It ends with some powerful words… “I have no formula for winning the race.  Everyone runs in her own way, or his own way.  Then where does the power come from?  From within.”

An honor!

But it doesn’t stop there. I’ve had a candle lit for me at the University of Notre Dame’s Our Lady of Lourdes grotto (thanks to my favorite fighting Irishman, Dave). I humbly have learned from many friends-of-friends that my name is in prayer circles all around the world. I was also given beautiful prayer beads to finger during the hard days from my dear friend Kristi. And of course, I have also prayed at the altar of great music for healing and optimism. While not a particularly “religious” person, I am spiritual and don’t discriminate when it comes to the power of belief. This experience has steepened that view even more.

Our Lady Grotto at Notre Dame

Whether it’s a dried, worm-shaped mushroom from Tibet or some funky dirt from Mexico, I have learned that faith and love come in many forms and there is “no formula.” I welcome them all and love each of you dearly for tapping your reserves to help me in my quest to beat this thing.

The Chariots of Fire quote that Tim sent me started out with this quote: “You came to see a race today – to see someone win… But I want you to do more than just watch a race.  I want you to take part in it.”

Thanks for coming to watch me race, and win, and mostly for taking part. Cancer didn’t stand a chance with you by my side.

Words of inspiration from "Chariots of Fire"

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11 Comments

  1. lori
    Posted September 1, 2010 at 2:55 pm | Permalink

    oh boy. crying at work. this is wonderful kerri. YOU are wonderful!

  2. Robert
    Posted August 27, 2010 at 4:48 pm | Permalink

    Like.

  3. nick
    Posted August 22, 2010 at 7:22 pm | Permalink

    You are an amazing person Kerri. I’m so happy for you, Dan and the girls to have some sunshine to enjoy. Bless you all. Such great news. N xoxoxo

  4. Monica Denney
    Posted August 17, 2010 at 10:58 am | Permalink

    Definately tears of joy! I am so happy and sending lots of prayers for a speedy surgery recovery. This is the beginning of a beautiful new chapter in the KHP story. xoxo

  5. Coco
    Posted August 16, 2010 at 1:45 pm | Permalink

    Whatever forms the treatments are, the ultimate one is in YOU – the strength, the belief, the optimistic, the fearlessness and the bling-bling!!! Kerri, the race you’re taking is phenomenon, I’m thrilled to witness it. I will race with you.

  6. Posted August 16, 2010 at 11:05 am | Permalink

    Came into this crazy life by your side, sister – and I’ll be here always.

    So proud to share my genetic code with you!

    -Kel

  7. Staci
    Posted August 15, 2010 at 10:38 pm | Permalink

    Such great and wonderful news! I love your posts! you are amazing -thanks for sharing you are truly inspiring. I will pray for a speedy recovery from surgery! Love you!

  8. Posted August 13, 2010 at 7:11 pm | Permalink

    awesome, awesome news, Kerri! time to move forward!

  9. Erika
    Posted August 13, 2010 at 2:19 pm | Permalink

    Best yet! So happy to be able to help you along this path when I could and, mostly, to celebrate the end of a remarkable journey. You’re a marvel to behold!

    Love – Love – Love – E.

  10. Anna C
    Posted August 12, 2010 at 9:18 pm | Permalink

    Happy happy tears of joy.

  11. wong
    Posted August 12, 2010 at 9:10 pm | Permalink

    inspiring, as usual. keep rocking it!!! big love.

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