If you meet Kaity, you'll no doubt notice the artwork on her body- the words, phrases, and symbols- each with their own story. Like many tattoos, each one is significant. Some of them, painfully so.
I didn't meet Kaity in person at first. I "met" her and her Doodle, Hope, through Instagram. I found myself pouring over every blog she posted, each part of her journey and perspective leaving me practically speechless. I had walked past her a couple of times in the local coffee shop where she often works, but being the introvert I am, I never introduced myself. Then one day, I got an email from her, asking if I would shoot some images for her new website. Thus began a creative collaboration and our friendship.
Several months later, she and I are back at that same coffee shop. She is so very easy to talk to. Her hugs are genuine and not rushed, and there’s a depth to her- a transparency that simply can’t be faked. Our conversation turned to her most recent aspiration: to eventually own and run her own retreat center and provide respite for those who have endured physical or emotional trauma. At 39 years old, it’s a complete 180 shift from her current job as a lawyer. Even more than that, it's a risk- but certainly, this isn’t the first time she’s faced one of those.
Two years ago, Kaity was diagnosed with Stage III Ovarian Cancer. She underwent a partial hysterectomy (removal of her ovaries and tubes, but not her uterus) and then entered a clinical trial that required six rounds of chemotherapy- a combination of both oral chemo and infusions. It was a routine that, unfortunately, she was already familiar with. You see, fourteen years earlier, she was also diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma- a disease that had no connection whatsoever to the ovarian cancer that would later be discovered. And in the time frame between those two diagnoses, (her Lymphoma went into remission and never returned), she entered a recovery program to get sober, and also went through a divorce. To many- herself included- it seemed that she was being stripped of every remaining shred of security and dignity she possessed.
So when she started the clinical trial for her ovarian cancer, she was determined to leave no facet of her health untouched. In conjunction with her oral chemo and chemo infusions, she also worked with a medical intuitive as well as a physician who practiced a combination of both eastern and western medicine (these two became her primary alternative healers). She also worked with a trauma coach, her 12-step sponsor, her therapist, and an acupuncturist. Afterward, she was devastated to learn that the chemotherapy didn't work.
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“Sometimes, I feel like a phony,” she said to me while she sipped her tea in Stir Crazy that morning. She had recently been talking to her mentor in the program she's doing to become certified as an Ayurvedic lifestyle coach. “Sometimes I think, ‘who am I to open a retreat center??’” Perhaps it was a rhetorical question, but I couldn't stop myself from answering anyway. My response to her was simple. I looked at her point-blank and said, “because you heard very clearly that you were supposed to do this.”
Just like she had heard very clearly two years ago that she wasn’t supposed to continue her chemo after three separate oncologists told her that it didn’t work- that her cancer was essentially “incurable.” According to all three of them, the only viable alternative was for her to do chemotherapy for the rest of her life (however much of it that remained). Kaity felt strongly that this wasn't an acceptable alternative, and she went with her gut. She was eventually able to get a fourth oncologist to agree to follow her while she attempted to put her disease into remission using only holistic methods. This included Reiki, continued energy work with her medical intuitive, and adopting an Ayurvedic lifestyle. She also traveled to work with several shamans and delved into emotional processing work with other various healers.
Three and a half months later, after being told that her disease was incurable, she received a phone call with her CA 125 test results. (The CA 125 test measures the amount of protein or “Cancer Antigen” in a person’s blood and higher-than-normal levels can detect certain cancers. Of course, as with every test, there’s a range of “normal,” but typically, even after a cancer has gone into remission, it’s common for the levels to remain elevated. On the phone, her oncologist was nearly beside himself. He simply said to her, "Western medicine will never be able to explain why your cancer went into remission, so if I were you, I'd just keep doing what you've been doing."
Her level had dropped back down to 12- back into the range of someone who had never even been diagnosed with the disease. By now, you've probably already interpreted this correctly, but it’s worth repeating: this woman cured her own cancer.
Afterward, Kaity spent much of the following year traveling and learning from healers of a variety of faith backgrounds, seeking to deepen her understanding about what they have in common. She also gained significant insight into lineage trauma and the emotional foundations of disease, which ultimately put her on her current trajectory to become a certified Ayurvedic Lifestyle Coach. And yet, the struggle to see outside of herself, with someone else’s eyes, is real. So, under the prompting of her mentor, we took a marker and wrote new kinds of words on her body- in particular, all of the negative thoughts and phrases that she feels are holding her back from her purpose.
I'll be honest- I don't know that there's anything more vulnerable than stripping down naked in someone else's living room, knowing that there's a camera waiting. But this is just who Kaity is, and she's already made herself equally vulnerable in her writing, time and time again. There was nothing unnatural about this next step.
Hope often requires us to be our most vulnerable, to continually bring to light those things that are uncomfortable and painful. There's just no getting around it. But in doing so, we're reminded that we're not the sum of the things that happen to us (whether bad or good), and that our humanity is something that can't be branded- regardless of what society would have us believe.
Afterward, Kaity went home and scrubbed off the words she had written in my living room, leaving behind the ones that were meant to stay- those phrases and symbols that have become the foundation of her hope. Ones like the one poignantly inscribed on the inside of her forearm:
"But later you will understand."