My name is Claudia Kittock. I have a Ph.D. from the University of Minnesota in education, specializing in developmental psychology and music education. I am a 61 year-old woman, semi-retired college professor, who is blissfully happy, wonderfully healthy, and a continual work in progress. I am currently finishing work on a book about my journey through colon cancer and subsequent recovery. It is titled Health Through Chaos.
I am happily married to the love of my life and we have been blessed with 2 sons. Our sons are college graduates and employed! I recently took early retirement from 38 years of teaching, most of those years as a college professor. I loved my job but am excited about my Act III.
I have always been a person of enormous energy and zest for life and learning. I never seemed to need as much sleep as other people and thrive on challenges, and numbers of them at any one time. I was the one who took on more work and more challenges and, for the most part, seemed to thrive in that environment.
Eight years ago, I was a grieving daughter, having lost both my mother and father within 2 years. I was a college professor, the mother of 2 teen-aged boys, and the wife of a full time teacher. Life was full, messy, exhilarating, sad, and exhausting. The 2 years I spent helping my parents as they faced the end of their lives had been the most difficult years of my life.
My father had exploratory surgery 2 days after Christmas and found out he had advanced cancer that had already spread throughout his abdomen. When I walked into his hospital room he said, “You look like hell!” I laughed and explained I was worried about him. He wanted none of that and he asked me to help him get his affairs in order and be his power of attorney. I did that with great love. Dad and I talked daily, sometimes 5-6 times a day in addition to trips to see the attorney, the banker, etc. My father also reminded me daily to “take care of Mom”. At times, I found that insulting. What else would I do? How could he think I wouldn’t take care of Mom?
After my father’s death, 8 months after his diagnosis, it became immediately apparent what “take care of Mom,” meant. What I had thought was a gradual cognitive decline was now, obviously, much more serious than that. The day of Dad’s funeral, Mom set a towel on fire while trying to make toast. She needed full time care, and I had to find a place that could care for her as she had cared for all of us, with great love and kindness. It taxed all of my research skills, love, and patience. I eventually found a wonderful facility and assisted mom through the last two years of her life.
At my mother’s funeral, my oldest sister and best friend, made me promise that I would put my energy into taking care of myself. The toll that the last two years had taken on me was obvious physically and it was now time to get caught up on taking care of me.
Two months after Mom’s death, during my first, routine colonoscopy, the doctor found colon cancer. That was the beginning of a journey I never anticipated. It was a journey that challenged me, and the people who loved me, in every possible way.
I had almost 2 years of chemotherapy. Each treatment began with IV steroids to help me cope with the nausea. While eating was difficult, and, at times impossible, at the end of treatment I had gained 65 pounds from the steroids. My body had been battered by 2 years of chemotherapy, 28 radiation treatments, 65 extra pounds, and 9 surgeries.
At the end of that battle, I began another battle that I was even less prepared to wage. Having no evidence of cancer was and is fabulous, but what do I do with the ravages of the treatments? How do I heal? How do I lose the excess weight? How do I live every moment of my life healthily? Was it even possible? It has changed us all, forever. Some of those changes are for the better. We grab each and every healthy day with greater gusto than before. We also work every day to maintain that health and to work through the trauma of what happened.
It took me 4 years of daily work to regain my health. Those years were spent reading, researching, listening, and trying out numbers of ideas to help me heal. Once I started feeling even a bit better, I became “hooked” on that feeling. It was odd and strange and exhilarating! Today, I run 20 miles a week, lift weights, take a weekly yoga class, maintain a healthy weight after losing 75 pounds, and thankfully, have no evidence of cancer. I am healthier than I was in my 20s, and so much happier.
I am convinced that there are no secrets to finding health. There is no one right way, but there is strong evidence to suggest that doing numbers of small, but important things can lead to a healthier life. It involves embracing the “truth” about health, and it involves change. These changes lead to feeling good, and it could be a brand new feeling, but it will be highly addictive.
One step at a time, spend each day doing what you CAN do, with the idea that this day could be the best I ever feel. IF it is the best you will ever feel, what can you do today?