Friday, May 31, 2013

Starting Life Again

There are many steps to take after a cancer diagnosis, after treatment, and after you are told that cancer is no longer inhabiting your body. Many of these steps are emotional, some are practical and necessary, and others are physical.

You take these steps, mostly because you don't have a choice. It is similar to treatment in a way. For all the times I was called brave and strong, I only thought to myself that I had no other choice, this is the way it is. I have to get through this treatment.

I have kept walking forward in my life, and at times I have sprinted from the past. Other times, I have ended up running in the wrong direction, but you always end up oriented the correct way, for no other reason then you keep trying to find the right direction.

I am taking the biggest step forward right now. It almost feels as if I am stepping backwards into my old life. I am returning to school. I am starting the graduate program that has consumed my mind since even before my diagnosis.

Along with this great leap towards my goals, comes extreme fear and anxiety. Although at times I am nothing but ecstatic about starting my Masters program, I am also haunted by this fear that it is too good to be true. Once things are ripped from you, so suddenly, you realize that you never know anything. You can never be sure. Anything can happen.

Torn between being driven by the pure desire to live, and the fear that things may go wrong, but I have no other option then to keep moving forward.

Just as cancer was an unreal experience, so is beginning my life again. I am hesitant to say it, but the next few years look so happy to me. With planning a wedding and being back in school, my life looks normal and happy.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012


This was written first when I was only one and half years out of treatment, and then edited again when I was approaching my 25th birthday. I will now be 26 at the end of this month. I have struggled emotionally, even three years after, but I have continued to build the life I want and hope for.

I am in a very different place right now. I feel content with my life. I have significantly moved forward with what I deemed important, and I am not crying myself to sleep on any night of the week. I have found new ways to define myself, and it is not through any job, or hobby. It is through who I am. It has been a long time coming to finally be at this point.

I am two years out of an Ivy League college, 15 months out of treatment for Hodgkin's Lymphoma, and unemployed. At the age of 24, where a young adult seeks independence and autonomy, I am still living at home and dependent on my loving and generous family. I blame my unemployment on being diagnosed with cancer at the age of 22. However, the after math of my cancer is almost harder to swallow then the treatment was. Here I am, talented and ambitious, but struggling emotionally. I have quit two jobs in the past six months. The only constant I have had over the past 15 months are CAT scans and check ups.

Cancer gives you a schedule. It is physically exhausting and emotionally taxing, but it has a structure. Or at least the treatment does. My structure lasted for 6 months, with ABVD treatment every other week for approximately 2.5 hours. Outside of that time I packed my schedule with everything I could think of to distract me. I enrolled in a class at Montclair University, I gave private pitching lessons, I worked part-time at Starbucks, and I planned a backpacking trip to Europe.

The backpacking trip allowed for me to escape everything I so desperately needed to get away from; all those cancer related doctor’s appointments. For one month, I could simply enjoy my life. I focused on a whole new adventure with my boyfriend, because spending a month together travelling is a bonding experience. It was so much more wonderful to bond over taking two and a half days to get to Greece from Italy, instead of chemotherapy. The Europe trip was only the first step in pushing cancer as far away from me as possible. I realized that not only are there a lot of steps to move forward after cancer, but I do not think the process ever really ends. It never ends because you can never forget that you had cancer.

"After cancer" is a statement that doesn't quite makes sense as cancer still controls part of my life. I have taken most of my life back, but understandably, cancer has changed me down to my soul. I still have scans to go for every four months, but more significantly, I am stuck picking up the pieces of what cancer and chemo left. Ideas of what life should be, what I want out of MY life and how I desire to live my life. Cancer alters previous conceptions of what is valuable. I am not writing or speaking of how I value life more, I have always valued my life. Cancer has changed my desires. It has placed different choices directly in front of my face. They are unavoidable.

Now, I have all these desires and goals, but I feel thrown backwards by cancer. We spend years getting ready to go into the real world. Inch by inch our culture eases us into being independent. We start when we are young, and by the time we reach our college graduation, we are ready to venture off on our own. There is one problem with this system for someone like me. For six months, all of my independence was taken away from me. My self sufficiency was stripped away, and I felt like a child, because I was being taken care of like a child. I backtracked to a middle schooler where my parents still took care of me, but I could still go out and socialize a small amount. I had permission to sit on the couch all day if I felt like it. I called out of work when necessary and cancelled my pitching lessons when I was not feeling up to it. I did not go party with friends anymore, and I mostly sat in my house. Once in a while, I would gather enough energy for a special event, such as a friend’s birthday party, but I would mostly spend time in front of the television. During the last half of treatment, I was in my house even more. The cumulative effects of treatment made it so I felt the chemo in my body past the point of not feeling good for just the weekend. I wasn't feeling one hundred percent any day of the week. I stopped feeling like myself and I was not able to do everything I had planned. My plans were on hold for what felt like such a long time. But just because treatment is over, does not mean you are fully recovered. It took me months to get my energy back. It is difficult to even explain the level of exhaustion I felt almost constantly.

What would I do once my energy came back? I had no idea. Although I am still a recent graduate, the questions I face in interviews include things like "What have you been up to since graduation?" As time goes on, this question becomes more and more difficult to answer. Yes, I did more in this past year besides have chemo injected into my body, but in this competitive job market, saying I traveled for a few months doesn't quite cut it. I could open up about my health, but sometimes there is not an appropriate opportunity. Although I have no qualms about talking about my cancer, sometimes it can be emotional. I feel trapped between explaining my cancer, and trying to get a job on my own, regardless of the gaps in my resume. Nobody prepared me for this during college. I fear that my resume looks like I just could not get a job for almost two years after graduation.

What I feel would truly help me move on past cancer is starting my life. That includes a job that would allow me to become financially independent. For months after cancer, when I just was not up to working, I was asking my Dad for money to go out with my friends. I had spent all my money on what I call an "after cancer trip". I was backpacking in Europe with my boyfriend and enjoying every single moment without chemo, until I came back home and the anxiety of having to start my life came down on me full force. Although after cancer all I wanted to do was everything, I had to face reality and get a job. Even aside from the challenges of landing a job in this economy, I think I have a bit of post traumatic stress disorder. How am I supposed to jump into a full time job without first dealing with my own emotions and feelings?

It is now later in the same year, and I turn 25 in just sixteen days. I can still tap into these complex emotions regarding cancer. I still feel that life can be bitter and unfair. I still ask “why me?”, and I still wonder what life would have been like without cancer. However, I have to admit, I never expected to know myself so well at just 25 years old. I am finally excited to celebrate my birthday later this month, and I have grown to be proud of how I handled myself during cancer. In fact, I am just proud of who I am at almost 25 years old. I am proud that I moved out of the house. I am proud that I have big dreams, and I am excited that I will not know where I will be next year. After all this time, I no longer have inner turmoil where I am constantly struggling with what I “need” to be doing. I have learned to focus on what I believe to be important, and accept that life is always changing, and moving.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Do You Have Cancer and Live With A Parent?

I was being taken care of by my family when I was 22 years old.  I moved home after my college graduation, and I had only expected to live with my family, not be completely dependent on them. That situation was difficult to swallow at times. Here is what helped me keep hold of my independence, and remain close with my family.

Spend time with your caretaker that is cancer free
My Dad scheduled, reminded me of, and drove me to all cancer related appointments. However, playing card games with him in order to distract myself from chemotherapy treatments was not what I would consider quality time with my Dad. I craved time with my family that did not revolve around my diagnosis. Don’t allow your only time with your caretaker to be centered around cancer.

Make plans - Your social life is important
When I was diagnosed with cancer, I thought I would be unable to enjoy my early twenties. That was not completely true. I made a few modifications, and gave myself small events to look forward to, even if it was just coffee with a friend.

Ask to be included
I made it clear to my friends and family that I was able to do many things. I wanted to be invited to a night out in NYC, even if I was unsure that I would be up for the late night. When I communicated to them that I could go out and grab a beer, or stay out for part of that night, I took back part of my social life.

Pick up the phone
You have friends. Sometimes they will not know how to talk with you. Call your friends and express if you want to talk about cancer, or if you want to have a conversation just like old times. Cancer is lonely enough, resist the urge to isolate yourself even further.

Being a young adult living at home is an adjustment for everyone
In fact, life after college is an adjustment. Not everyone has cancer to deal with, but it helps to see that your friends are adjusting to their new lives as well.  They are also trying to find new friends, either in new places, or at home. The truth is, most young adults are entering a new phase of their lives, which is sometimes lonely and scary.

What helped you feel more independent when you lived at home? How did you balance being taken care of with your independence?

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Check It Out!

There have been a few amazing articles on the first Crush Cancer Clinic, so please check them out!

The Star Ledger - article by Eunice Lee
      Now She's Shutting Out Cancer

The Patch - article by Teresa Akersten
    Survivor to Run 'Crush Cancer Clinic'

The 1st Crush Cancer Clinic @ Caldwell College

If you are interested in having a Crush Cancer Clinic, email me (Kristen) at

Thank you for all of the wonderful support - and a huge thank you to Desi Giordano who played a huge part in the first Crush Cancer Clinic! Thank you to Emilyrose Havrilla and Jill Del Pozzo for helping coach, and Caldwell College and Vero Amici for their generous donations!

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Sign Up!

I am very excited to let you all know that the Crush Cancer Clinic is filling up quickly! Hurry and email to save a spot for the clinic on Saturday, January 21 (this coming Saturday!)

The Details:
Saturday, January 21st
Caldwell College-Student Center Gym
Softball Clinic limited to 50 girls- and spots are filling up!
email to save your spot!

Friday, January 13, 2012

Why am I doing this?

I am a 25 year old athlete, who also happens to be a cancer survivor.

That is the reason for this Crush Cancer Softball Clinic; to share my story, and bring awareness to the issue of cancer, at any age.

When I was diagnosed with cancer, I was terrified. The only association I had with cancer was a very negative one. I only knew of grandparents' being diagnosed with cancer. I did not know of other 20 year olds with cancer. I did not know what happened to 20 year olds who had cancer. I thought only of bad things happening to me.

Slowly, that negative perception of cancer was altered with the help of reality. I realized that it was likely I would beat cancer, and go on to live my life the way I wanted to. However, it was still a very lonely journey. I did not have too many stories of hope, and I did not have other individuals to relate to. I felt I was on my own.

I hope to get rid of that loneliness that so often accompanies a cancer diagnosis. I want others to see a story of hope. I want others to be able to share that they once met a vibrant 25 year old who also happened to be a cancer survivor.

I will continue to share my story, and present myself as a example of what can be after a cancer diagnosis.

Please help support my mission by signing up for the Crush Cancer Clinic.

The softball clinic is taking place on January 21st, at Caldwell College, from 10am-1pm. Other details can be found in blog posts below.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

The Details

This softball clinic will include instruction on hitting, infield and outfield, from 2 All-State athletes, Kristen Schindler and Desi Giordano.

It is open to girls of all ages!

Looking forward to seeing you there!

When? January 21st, 10am-1pm

Where? Student Center Gym at Caldwell College

How do you sign up? Email Kristen Schindler at with name and age or participants

Cost? $20 minimum donation (cash or check, all checks made out to Leukemia and Lymphoma Society)