“They’d fed three children and gotten me three husbands. I didn’t want to entrust them to just anyone,” writes Kristiansen about her concerns over breast reconstruction.
As Breast Cancer Awareness month draws to a close, Kristiansen’s book is heading out into the world where breast cancer makes up 28 per cent of all cancer diagnoses for B.C. women. This year, B.C. Cancer is estimating 4,060 women in the province will be newly diagnosed with breast cancer.
Before being diagnosed in 2017 with triple negative breast cancer (TNBC) Kristiansen was happily writing a general blog called Ageing Gracelessly. Then everything changed. For the record, TNBC is aggressive and makes up about 15-to-20 per cent of breast-cancer cases.
“The blog was just a kind of general musing on turning 60 and that kind of thing. Then boom, I got diagnosed with this and that became the focus,” said Kristiansen, 64, who teaches art history at Langara College.
From the get-go she said the response from friends and family was positive, even her foul language had found fans.
“I just really didn’t give a damn, I just wrote exactly what I felt,” said Kristiansen in a recent phone interview. “People loved the edginess of it. That it wasn’t all cleaned-up and kind of medical. It really talked about my feelings and my experience. I think they liked that I swore a lot.”
One of the interesting outcomes of sharing personal stories of pain and fear wasn’t only that Kristiansen’s ups-and-downs were relatable to fellow cancer battlers, but also that her honest, unvarnished descriptions offered insight into the disease and treatment to the people close to those going through these tough times.
“A friend of mine’s twin sister had triple negative breast cancer and wouldn’t talk about it so what I found is people were saying thanks for letting me know what my loved ones are going through,” said Kristiansen, who also wanted to write this for her three daughters and two granddaughters.
In Angel in the Marble Kristiansen talks about all aspects of the treatment and her own non-prescriptive bids — you name the health food trend or supplement she tried it — to feel better. Through the tales of kale smoothies, turmeric, pot and puke, vanity is a thread that weaves through all of it. Hair loss and breast loss are gut-punches to identity, but Kristiansen manages to face those facts with a healthy dose of perspective.
“Three weeks before my cancer diagnosis I toyed with the idea of getting Botox to fix a furrow between my eyebrows. Nine months later, I was shopping for nipples,” Kristiansen writes.
Kristiansen almost didn’t write this book but an outreaching from other people in the same boat buoyed her and she took the next steps and reached out to the Self Publishing Agency and connected with an editor.
“It came to the end of my treatment and I actually never wanted to look at this stuff again. I wanted to put it behind me,” said Kristiansen. “Then I started to get inquiries about whether I was going to put the blog together into a book or something. So I started to toy with that and I started to put it together, and what I found really fascinating was I realized I had missed huge chunks of what I’d been through. In fact, through the blog, I never discussed my surgeries. Obviously I avoided that so I needed to push myself to do that.”
There are studies that support the idea of journaling as a positive means to process emotion. Kristiansen agrees with those findings.
“It helped me hugely,” said Kristiansen. “It was like a catharsis. I’m sort of from the stiff-upper-lip background so it was out-of-character for my family, my experience to actually just push it out there, but it helped me to move on.”
Now as the book is out Kristiansen admits there was a brief moment of, ‘Oh my God, what have I done? Was this the right time for levity?’ Turns out, yes.
“You know what? Who cares? When you are facing your own mortality it’s liberating,” said Kristiansen. “At my age I’ve been through a lot of crap so you have to see the humour in it. It’s how you get through life.”