Kelsey Batson

@kelsey-batson | contributor
Kelsey Batson is a graduate student in social work, a former clinical research coordinator, barista and violinist. She and her mom also co-founded a non-profit for young adults, Fightsong!, which focuses on creative expression for people ages 15 to 40. She was diagnosed in 2013 with unknown stage adrenal cancer, and has been fighting and living ever since. She loves being in the mountains, listening to good music and running, although she is still working up to that! 
Kelsey Batson

How Living With Cancer Can Change Your Life and Dreams

There is comfort to be found in so many things when you are a human. However, the expanse of those things seems to shrink when you are a cancer patient. And yet we go on. The comfort of a big travel-themed dream. The comfort of familiarity in skiing the same slope that you have skied since childhood — although you know it ends in a cliff drop. The comfort in asking for small favors. These are all very much human, and become very much out of our reach when we are sick for a month, two months, three years and finally over seven. And yet we go on. From our big dreams, we have to release them slightly from the immediate to say “hopefully one day” rather than going through with our plans to walk the Camino de Santiago de Compostela, one that we had been planning on for over a decade with a close friend. We say “oh, maybe next week” when thinking about a potential walk or hike or bike ride with a partner. Anything to keep that hope of adventure alive without telling ourselves that reality is, in fact, stronger than our dreams or wishes. And yet we go on. Our running, something in which we found so much comfort with the repetition of steps, the breaths that rushed in and out as if unbidden and instead because they were supposed to – that comfort is replaced by a familiar book or many-times played record and the thought that “I will get back to running someday, when things get better…” And yet we go on. We still maintain the words of “someday” and “this too shall pass,” smiling through gritted teeth because we know that we will likely have to wait many more months to fulfill our dreams and do not wish to settle for less. Luckily, some of that comfort does come to us easily, when we can get lost in the words on a page or a slow walk along a familiar road. The routine of treatment or the familiar “I am here if you need me, just call” said so many times by friends who are sometimes well-intentioned but still unaware. Our adventures are replaced, you see, by both the comfort that is required in order to adapt, and by patience required by that comfort. And yet we go on. Our “new normal” replaces our everyday. We begin to accept, because we have to, that we will never have children, never climb K2 (which likely would never have happened regardless, let’s stop kidding ourselves), and may never again visit the tops of peaks with our skis, faces primed for the wind and turned towards the sky to take in the feeling that we were, once, on top of the world. With great loss comes even greater acceptance, although the process is slow and terrible. We still go on. We begin to notice the joys in the little things: the laughter of a child in a park, the floppy ears of a new puppy, the delicious new food or drink, the continuous growing in love. We remember our dreams as “some-days” and look forward to our tomorrows, whatever they might hold. We feel loss, yes, all of the time. But we also feel grateful to feel at all. And when we dream, we are right back on that mountain, wind whipping our faces as we turn and fly down, invincible. We always go on.

Kelsey Batson

Getting a Tattoo Before Starting Immunotherapy for Adrenal Cancer

Adrenal cancer is one of those orphan cancers that takes you by surprise when it returns, and even still when it doesn’t. I found out a few weeks ago that my disease had returned again, and needless to say, I am slightly bummed. I start an immunotherapy drug on Wednesday, and the hope is that it will curb it for longer than just the two months it has been staying away. The dream, however, is that it will be a cure! My thoughts, as they do in many moments throughout the day, flew to my brother G when I heard the news and I wished, not for the first time, that he were sitting with me in that cold clinic room. Before my baby brother died, he described to me in detail the type of tattoo I should get for him. I was sitting next to him in the big blue comfy chair while he was in his hospital bed, lucid and at peace. Our conversation went something like this: Me: “G, what symbol should I put on my wrist for you?” G (without any hesitation but with a slight smile): “An infinity sign.” Me: “Why is that?” G (smiling even bigger): “Because I am always thinking the same thing.” Me: “Yeah? Like what?” G: “Like, ‘what the hell is going on??’” Me: “What else do you think about?” G remained silent for a moment, and turned his head towards the window. After a few seconds, he said, “…but you should put stars inside of each side.” He smiled really big after this and looked me in the eye. Me: “Why is that?” G: “Because they are infinite. They never die.” I promised him I would do as he asked. The conversation ended after that as his attention turned elsewhere (to the cows that lived in the field across from our apartment), and I got choked up because of his answer. He was lucid for that moment, as he was for so many others, and I am so thankful for that moment and those wishes. I got my tattoo today, with some modifications (I am sorry, G! But I know that you forgive me!), just in time to start treatment next week. It is an experimental immunotherapy, given via infusion over 30 minutes once every three weeks, and should not change my life in too many ways (except to hopefully give me a cure, knock on wood!) I suppose that I am at a junction in my life. Completely in love with a girl who makes my heart smile, in the middle of graduate school and finally healthy enough to ski and adventure and play violin for several hours during some days and drive like hell to get through a blizzard to work the next morning. However, there is also the other hidden part. Adrenal cancer is a type of cancer that is not visible to a person walking down the street giving me elevator eyes. I still have my hair, don’t use a wheelchair and am not bedbound, and am still eating (ish). The only way it is possible to tell is if you know me well and can notice the days when the color has fallen from my face because of pain, you have seen the shape of my body change from when they removed organ after organ over the past few years and from many surgeries (and yes, I am a full supporter of just installing a clothing-grade zipper in my abdomen so as to make it easier on both the surgeon and patient) and you can tell I am acting differently when my endocrine system starts to crash and I begin to slur or become incredibly confused. I think the purpose of this post is two-fold: to point out that not everything is visible to the eye, and I am thankful for that. However, as I embark upon this next step in treatment, continue along this process of school to someday help people in the same ways that my family has been helped over the past 14 years and continue to try and open my heart to the world around me, I will have this little token tattoo to remind me that life is fleeting and worth every moment. No matter the issue, whether you deem it small or large, regarding health or sanity, even love or loss, life is worth living. Baby G taught me to live every day to its fullest, even if that means napping for most of it, because that will make the following day even better. And maybe, just maybe, I can stop judging myself for what I can’t do, and start thanking my body for the things I can do. I look at the stars a lot more than I used to. Maybe in a few years I will invest in a telescope. After all, although stars change just like everything else, some part of them are always there, watching out for us from above. Immunotherapy – with your help, I can beat this. In another 50 years, I will still have my tattoo, and hopefully, I will still be skiing. We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here. Thinkstock photo via chaluk.

Kelsey Batson

Woman Going Through Radiation Is Determined to Live Her Life

There are few words more harmful to me right now than “we would like to give you as much time as we can.” Those words are being said to me often, though, and so I’m trying to adjust accordingly. I am in no way shape or form dying, but those words hit me right in the heart. How do I respond? I laugh. Not psychotically, but just because I need to. Let me explain. When I was diagnosed, my baby brother, already dying, turned to me and said, “Welcome to the club, Kelsey!” “Welcome to what club?” I responded, already smiling. “To the cancer club, of course!” he said, a big grin on his face. I laughed and laughed even further still when he started calling us the “terminal two.” I wasn’t terminal, but he surely was. And when he started going down to the point past possible return, he would still turn to me and say with a smile in his voice, “Kelsey, we’re the terminal two!” I laughed. I always laughed. Because even though it wasn’t and is still not true for me, it was true for him, and laughing was the only way to get through it. As my recurrences get more frequent and closer and closer together, I have my freak-outs and then I pause to laugh like a person who doesn’t have a care in the world. I would rather it that way. Many people outside of my immediate family are still horrified at the ways in which we handle bad news. But they don’t understand that laughing is simply the best way to deal with the anvils that drop frequently and joking about bad stuff really does help in the wake of the destruction that those things actually leave. I went on a relatively short and beautiful road bike ride through the trees this weekend. The fall colors were incredible. We kept biking through little pockets of cool air, and the trees looked like they were glowing and on fire. As we made our way down the trail, I realized two things: My muscles have atrophied because weeks of radiation following recovery from surgery is not conducive to a rocking bod, and that I was feeling lucky. It was during my euphoric realization of being happy that I crashed unceremoniously and slowly to the ground. I fell twice on that ride — a road ride, an easy road ride — partly because I’m now too slow to unclip from my pedals fast enough to stop myself, and partly because my muscles get angry and tired and reluctant — really quickly. During this current round of radiation, my body is really feeling it, and I feel as though sometimes my body just tries to give me the finger when I am pushing it. As I brushed the scrapes and twigs and pebbles from my legs and arms and picked up my glasses from where they flew when I went down, I started to chuckle. I laughed at the ridiculousness of the fact that my body is actively fighting me, I laughed at the picture in my head of me slowly tipping over, I laughed with the beautiful day and the luck that I felt to be there. I laughed harder still when I got home and saw the bruises that seemed to bloom like weird flowers, the darkest of blues, absolutely covering my legs and arms. “This is what my cancer looks like,” I thought. Bruises and pain and scars and not being able to ride my darn bike during treatment for fear that I will tip over. But I will do it anyway. And I will get better and stronger, and I will ski and jump and dance and act the fool that I am because if I do not do that, I am not giving my life the justice it deserves. At the end of the day, I would rather fall asleep with a trace of a smile on my face thinking about how absurd the world is than thinking about how scary it can be. So when you see me in 80 years in my rocking chair with a cup of tea and a good book next to a fire and the person that I love, I will be the opposite of bitter, with a smile on my face and a laugh in the air. We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here . Lead photo source: Thinkstock Images The Mighty, in partnership with Fuck Cancer, is asking the following: What was one thing you thought immediately after your diagnosis that you completely changed your mind about? Find out how to email us a story submission here .

Kelsey Batson

On Being Scared of Recurring Adrenal Cancer

I found out a few days ago that my cancer has returned for the fifth time. A relatively small recurrence with just three tumors, it could have been much worse. I am lucky. At the start of my brother’s first illness and then of mine, my mother used to say that we all have a bus in our lives, a bus that will hit us and take us away. This could be cancer, a freak accident, old age, sepsis, depression, even an actual bus. What matters, however, is how we deal with that bus when it hits. If we rage, or if we sit down and let life pass us by. Sometimes we have no choice. So far, I have had a good choice. I am lucky. I start a new chapter of my life next week to become a social worker. I now have this opportunity, and it fills my heart with joy and anticipation. On the flip side, it also fills my stomach with an anxious ache. Will I be able to finish this program? If I do, will I be able to work as a social worker for along time? Will I be able to truly affect change? With adrenal cancer, you never know when the other shoe will drop. My shoe seems to be dropping about every three to six months, and so right now I am trying to laugh a lot and be as cool as a cucumber. Truthfully, I am still here and still laughing, and so I am very lucky. I have a beautiful family, my baby brother looking out for me from wherever he is, a wonderful support system of friends, and advisors who encourage me. My community gives me hope and strength and has somehow made it possible for me to accept my “new normal” and try and roll with the punches. Many people don’t have the kind of community with which I have been blessed. I am lucky. Despite these things, occasionally there are dark moments when fear pushes out the rest. I wonder to myself whether or not I would be OK leaving the world. I wonder if there is something I am doing wrong or not enough that I am doing right. Mostly I am just scared to leave my family and family of friends behind me. After that moment passes, however, I snap to. I realize that with luck and love, I need to have the courage to face whatever comes my way. I owe my life to the determination and perseverance of the people around me. I owe most of my life to my brother who passed away with a smile, our middle brother who jokes and laughs, my mother with her unwavering strength and positivity, and my family of friends that keep all of us afloat. I am lucky. I have realized over the past few years since diagnosis that I can feel lucky, grateful, and blessed. And trust me, I do. But I am also allowed to be scared. When I talked to my oncologist yesterday and found out I recurred again, my friend turned to me and said, “OK, you have one day to freak out. One day to cry and rage and be upset. And then it’s go time.” So, I cried a little. I listened to a sad song and freaked out and allowed myself to be terrified. And then I put on my resolve and went through the rest of my day. There are only three new tumors, not 40. They are all treatable, and I have many more options. I am fine. I will be fine. It’s just a little setback. Since then, I have had a few more moments of doubt, and I allow myself to feel those moments. If I don’t allow myself those moments, the scare piles on and explodes when it is unexpected. So… here is to treatment, to moving on, and to being on the up and up. Fear never goes away; however, it is a constant reminder that I still have things to be thankful for. I am lucky. Image via Thinkstock. The Mighty is asking the following: Describe a part of your or a loved one’s cancer diagnosis that doesn’t get talked about often. Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

Kelsey Batson

Dating With Chronic Cancer

I was in a relationship for the first two and a half years of my disease. My partner was with me through the dire diagnosis of metastatic adrenal cancer, radiation rounds and surgeries, and titration of medications. She knows my health history way better than I do. She was even there during the treatment and death of my younger brother. That relationship has since ended, and I am embarking on another stage of my life, now recovering from my fourth recurrence and biggest surgery yet, as well as starting graduate school. So I figured: why not online dating? Why not meet people at bars? And herein lies a problem: I have a history that is not particularly conducive to dating. Here is what I would like to say on my dating profile: You must be open to spending time in the oncology ward and not be squeamish about medications or side effects. You must be open to a lot of baggage — and not the usual kind. Also I cannot physically have children. Love you, mean it! That does not work. Here is what I say instead: I love to adventure, laugh, and love. Looking for someone who shares the same passions. Also true. Misleading? Not really, but maybe a little bit! But can I really describe in detail the scar that goes from my sternum to my pubic bone, or tell someone my body has crashed and I am resting when they ask what I am doing? No. Here is what I can do. I can have trust in people and believe they are more accepting than I could ever imagine. And that I must give them the opportunity to have empathy, to put themselves in positions they may never be comfortable with. The most recent guy I dated was wonderful about it. When all is said and done, people deserve faith and belief right back at them. I must give some sort of chance by putting myself out there with hope. So come and say hi, ladies and gentleman. I am lovely, kind, adventurous, fun, and I have cancer. But I am a person too, just like you. It is spectacularly wonderful to meet you. The Mighty, in partnership with Fuck Cancer, is asking the following: What do you wish you had found on Google when you were first diagnosed? Find out how to email us a story submission here .

Kelsey Batson

Letter to People Who Don't Know What to Say After Illness

Dear people who tell me, “I am sorry, I just don’t know what to say…” – I forgive you. My baby brother was diagnosed with leukemia at age 9, and he was diagnosed with a brain tumor at age 20. I was diagnosed with metastatic adrenal cancer five months after his brain tumor was deemed terminal. Most of the outcomes of these experiences I simply don’t understand, based on a basic knowledge of what is good and fair. However, here are some things I do understand. I understood when some of my brother’s closest friends stopped coming to see him. It made sense when most of you stopped writing or calling, because you didn’t have the words. I understood when I had just my partner and loved ones with me during my surgeries, radiation rounds, and doctors appointments — sometimes it was even better, because I can remember how proud my baby brother was when he walked into my room, so happy to be the one taking care of me for a change, and presented me with a puppy stuffed animal that had taken him 20 minutes to pick out because he wanted it to be just perfect. I prefer now when my cancer comes back these days to tell only my family and closest friends, because I understand surgery, the ICU and cold recovery rooms are not for everyone. It was our picture to hold close to our hearts when my baby brother fought with every breath and a smile on his face, and when he danced his way into sleep. Because truthfully, there will never be words enough for that. Our middle brother grew up scared and afraid every day because of our shared genetics, but mostly on his own he has turned that fear into care and love. He has become a support, a confidant, an independent and strong young man and most importantly, our brother with humor that makes us double over in laughter. I do not understand how my mom lost her baby boy. It is too much that now she worries every day about the well-being of her other two children — one sick and one not. And it is not fair that she blames herself. But to her friends and partner who are there for her, you have no idea the strength on which she relies that comes directly from you. She is too proud to say it, but I can: Thank you, forever. And so to all of you — I forgive you. On behalf of my baby brother, the strongest and most wonderful person that I have ever known, my best friend and my hero, I know he forgave you too, and long time ago. As for me, I forgive you, too. Because there are no words. Sometimes all I need to know is that you are there, ready to talk about your own lives instead of my illness or that of my brother, who I am sure is smiling at you from the corner of my hospital room although we cannot see him. I need your love and your compassion and your good thoughts even from across the country. Most of all, I need for you to say only what you are comfortable with, to visit when you think you will be all right, and to support me when I get better and worse and better again — because that is the course of my life now. I love people to laugh with, to gossip with, to adventure with, and a few to cry with. So for those of you who can’t do those things — please know you are forgiven. This world of illness is not for everyone. You are loved either way. The Mighty is asking the following: Write a letter to anyone you wish had a better understanding of your experience with disability, disease or mental illness. Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.