“I remember being on morphine and asking a doctor, ‘How rare am I? And he’s like, ‘You’re pretty rare.’ And I’m like, ‘No, really… how rare am I? You need to tell me.’ He’s like, ‘You’re one in a million.” I’m like, ‘Oh, great.’”
Kelly Erikson was living the life of any normal 25-year-old when, in October of 2017, she started feeling pains in her stomach and back. A CT scan at the ER revealed that she had a kidney stone, so she called off work at Chestnut Hill Café, went home, and waited for it to pass. A week later, she came down with flu-like symptoms. For a few weeks, the cycle continued—intense pains, followed by aching and nausea. Finally, on December 14th, Kelly woke up at three o’clock in the morning in unbearable pain. Assuming she was passing the kidney stone, she went to Lancaster General Hospital. When they did a second CT scan to check on the stone, however, a doctor noticed that her ovary was inflamed.
“I was like, ‘Alright, whatever,’” Kelly says, “‘I don’t know what that means.’ And then he comes back, and he’s like, ‘It’s a mass.’” When the doctor started talking about seeing an oncologist, Kelly knew things were bad. She was told she needed to have surgery immediately to remove the affected ovary and to find out if the mass was cancerous. When she woke up, Kelly learned that she had been given a complete hysterectomy and both ovaries had been removed. Not only was her mass cancerous, her cancer was aggressive.
Then, on January 5th, while recovering at her mother’s home, Kelly found herself unable to eat or to walk without getting dizzy. Another visit to the ER revealed a blockage in her lower intestines. When doctors went in to fix the blockage, they discovered Kelly’s “origin” tumor—a mass in her lower intestines that had eroded away part of intestine and allowed the cancer to reach her ovaries. “I feel like I had two diagnoses. I was diagnosed with cancer on December 15th, and diagnosed with my specific cancer January 5th. And since then, I keep falling into these rare categories. It’s a very rare, aggressive cancer that usually, if you’re a man over the age of 65 and you have a history of celiac and Crohn’s disease in your family, and you’re super unhealthy, live on fatty foods, and smoke a pack a day for decades, you have a one in a hundred thousand chance of getting it. And then there’s me.”
Kelly started treatment immediately, but the hits kept coming. When nurses put in her chemotherapy port, she ended up with a blood infection. Then, she had an allergic reaction to her chemo drug. “It’s a joke between me and my mom,” Kelly laughs, “that every time they’re like, ‘Well this doesn’t normally happen,’ we’re like, ‘Uh-huh.’ I can’t just have cancer—I have to be extra about everything.”
Extra inspiring, extra honest, and extraordinary certainly describe Kelly’s journey as a cancer patient. She documents her trials and triumphs on a blog called “The Kooker” (a nickname given to her by her parents) with the raw emotion and truth of someone struggling to find the positive in the incredibly unfair hand she’s been dealt. “It happened very quickly,” she says, “and I wrestle with the fact that before my diagnosis, I was normal. I was 25, about to turn 26, just stressing about work and about money, hanging out with friends, trying to go out and see shows. And then suddenly it was like, ‘You could die.’ I’ve suddenly got this ticking time clock on my head… and I’m going to work because work makes me happy, and I’m going to go to more shows, I’m going to travel when I can, just because there’s going to be a moment when I can’t do that anymore.”
Determined to live life to the fullest, Kelly can be found dancing at Tellus360 with her chemo bag over her shoulder, greeting regulars at Chestnut Hill, or, on tired days, trudging a block to a friend’s house to crash on the sofa and watch TV. She makes it a point to find even the smallest bit of happiness in each day and hold on to it for the times when she doesn’t feel as strong.
“When I got my prognosis, I was talking to my doctors. I was like, ‘You need to tell me what you tell other patients that have this cancer.’ And they said, ‘Two years if everything goes wrong, and usually five years if everything goes perfectly fine. But then there’s that slim margin of remission, like five percent of people actually end up hitting remission.”
With her characteristic spunk, Kelly asserts, “If I’m going to get all these rare things that don’t normally happen, I’m going to be the five percent.”
Follow Kelly’s blog at www.thekooker.wordpress.com