A Will to Influence Change

I just knew I had leukemia. Like a shouting child insistent on his way, my secret disease seemed to scream in my face, “Told you!”

Shaking my head in frustration, I attempted to dislodge the thought. I was nineteen years old. I couldn’t have cancer.

But my friend did. He was twenty-two, just diagnosed with leukemia.

Finally, I gave in to my inner hypochondriac and turned on my computer, searching for any symptoms of this hidden disease. While what I found didn’t match any of the symptoms I’d been having, I did see one curious symptom of leukemia: a firm portion just beneath the ribcage. After poking around for a moment, I felt a spot, hard as a rock, on my right side.

Frantic, I dialed 911, not knowing what else to do. I felt foolish when the paramedics came to the door and I had to ask them to leave after realizing that if I did, in fact, have leukemia, being rushed to the hospital wasn’t necessarily the correct option.

However, I did determine I needed to know right away what was truly going on. I called out of work and proceeded to an ultrasound clinic. Hoping for the best but expecting the worst, I was disappointed but unsurprised to be sent immediately to the ER for further testing when something worrisome appeared on my scan.

It turned out I didn’t have leukemia.

I had a tumor nearly the size of a football on my right kidney.

Words will never contain the heart-dropping shock and fear I experienced in the moment I first heard those words. For me, a new believer in Christ at that point, disbelief is the only word I can think of to describe it.

He explained to me that this particular tumor was called “Wilms’ tumor” and was something he had never personally seen in an adult—it usually appeared in children between the ages of two and five. His recommendation was to treat it like any child with Wilms’—a few months of post-op chemo.

I had my right kidney removed but I didn’t want to believe there was a possibility that my faith wouldn’t heal any leftover cancer cells in my body. I naively sought no family or trusted friends to offer wisdom. As a nineteen-year-old, I was more concerned with losing my hair than avoiding cancer at some undetermined point in my future. Dr. Fishman disagreed with my decision, but I left his office with a determination to live a healthier life. That would be my postoperative care.

For two years, life proceeded as normal . . . well, as normal as possible for a cancer survivor. Knowing I’d had cancer once, I lived in fear every day that it would come back. Which is why the sharp, paralyzing pain down my right side that immobilized me for the better part of one afternoon deeply frightened me. When I was finally able to stand up from the couch, I put the experience out of my mind … until two months later, when it happened again.

Still in denial that it was related to my previous tumor, I researched chiropractors and found a Christian doctor to visit. I insisted I must have a pinched nerve causing sharp pains. Although it wasn’t common practice for him to do so in this particular situation, he took an X-ray, explaining to me that he felt prompted to do so by something other than my symptoms.

I distinctly remember the moment he sat across from me and solemnly said there was something on the X-ray that he knew shouldn’t be there. I stood up from my chair and backed into the wall, hands searching behind me for something solid, something that would make the room stop spinning. I wanted to scream and shout and run away and pretend this wasn’t happening to me, because this couldn’t be happening again. Not again.

But I didn’t run away. My chiropractor closed his office for the day and drove me to a radiology clinic for a CT scan. Numbly, I walked through the motions of another scan, with more doctors, and heard the new diagnosis: stage 4 cancer. A recurrence of the Wilms’ tumor was up against my heart, wrapped around arteries and pressing on my right lung, taking up space throughout the whole middle of my chest.

Inoperable. Huge. The ultimate death sentence.

I was in mortal danger. And I was angry. This wasn’t supposed to happen. I believed in God and knew He had healed me. Why was this happening?

At first, I again refused chemotherapy. I wanted to try homeopathic remedies before resorting to pumping poison into my body. After a couple of months, the only thing that had changed for the better was my ability to eat healthier than I ever had before—the specific cancer I had wasn’t responding to anything I had tried. My new tumor doubled in size. Defeated, I went back to Moffitt Cancer Center and found myself facing Dr. Fishman, the same doctor I’d told two years earlier I wouldn’t be doing post-op chemo because I didn’t need it.

“I wondered if you’d be back,” he said.

Dr. Fishman quickly sent me to the thoracic oncologist, as this now wasn’t just kidney cancer. The oncologist looked at me and said, “I’m not sure there’s much we can do. This has gone too far and is progressing quickly. You have maybe three months.”

I wasn’t allowed to go home that day. I was sent to a private room for hours before I was admitted to the hospital. In the quiet room, all by myself, I struggled to face reality. This is my life now, I thought. But something in me just knew I wouldn’t die. However, what I didn’t know was how long this journey would last, how hard it might be, and how the story would unfold.

Days passed slowly and painfully. During the first week, my hair began to clump together and stick to itself. Irrationally trying to hold on to a faint hope that I wouldn’t lose my hair.

But like all terrifying days we know will come, it came, and too soon. As though someone had taken a pair of scissors to it, my hair came out in chunks one day when I managed to make it into the shower. I stood, despondent, placing the pieces of hair onto the shower wall as I wept uncontrollably. My femininity, the security blanket of my appearance . . . they were stolen from me in that moment.

The next year was, in many ways, simultaneously the worst and most character- building time of my life. I was angry with God for allowing me to get cancer again. I begged for miraculous healing that seemed to never come. I quickly began to get closer to Him and know Him more deeply than ever before. I began reading every Scripture about healing I could find out loud—speaking life into my body, the real medicine.

Throughout this valley of the shadow of death, I knew that I wanted my life to be a sacrifice to God. I also knew I was destined to do great things I’d yet to discover, and I wasn’t ready to see the end.

After a year and a couple months, the chemotherapy shrank the tumor to an operable size. Always the avid researcher, I found the best thoracic lung surgeon I could and made my way to MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, with a great deal of financial assistance from the American Cancer Society (to which I will forever feel deep gratitude). The surgery required removal of two of the three lobes of my right lung and left me with a six-inch scar down my chest.

Test results showed the cancer cells had all died by the time the tumor was removed. If that wasn’t enough of a miracle, the surgeon revealed that there were four tumor nodules found during surgery, which was evidence the cancer was attempting to spread to other locations in my body.

I could hardly wrap my brain around the news. I began to cry while uttering the words, “God…I don’t understand,” over and over. God became more real to me in that moment than any moment in my entire life. He was more powerful than I ever knew He was. It was then that I realized the divine miracle that had taken place.

While natural remedies didn’t immediately heal my cancer, the education I received in healthy living taught me how to eat life-giving foods. This journey proved to me that these foods are not as easily found as I believe they should be. Over the last few years, I’ve found myself circling gas stations and convenience stores, searching for healthy options while on the go. But even with the increase in interest for healthy lifestyle choices, you still must go out of your way to find a health food store.

Then, in 2014, more than four years after my surgery, the Lord gave me the vision for ESSTAR: to make healthy, life-giving foods accessible on every corner through convenience stores to fight and end disease.

I sold almost everything I owned and moved into a five-hundred-square-foot studio apartment in order to make my vision a reality. The “stuff “ is worth nothing compared to this passion I’ve found to take a stand for my people—those who desire to live a healthy life. Like Esther in Scripture, I refuse to stand idly by when I have the power to influence change. Today, ESSTAR owns and operates “Krista’s Healthy On The Go” food stations in over a 100 convenience stores across the country. I’ve gone on to write two books and I speak around the world sharing a testimony beyond explanation – that God is still in the business of healing and miracles.

Six years ago when I laid in that hospital bed with three months left to live, I asked God why I had to endure such pain and suffering. Recovering from stage 4 cancer was blessing enough—but now I look back and can see God’s hand in the midst of my deepest turmoil. His plan is much greater than my own individual healing; it’s about redemption and health of a nation.