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Reflecting on Five Years

Finding purpose and balance in life after cancer

In a couple weeks, I will have reached my five-year breast-cancer-free day. Like most breast cancer survivors, I can tell you the last date of my chemotherapy appointment as easily as I can tell you my birthday. I can also tell you what I was doing when I received the call from my physician telling me my lump was cancerous.

At one time, being cancer free for five years meant that my chances of cancer returning was no longer likely. My maternal aunt’s breast cancer returned within 12 years, and she eventually died from this disease. I know it is different for every patient, but the five-year mark doesn’t necessarily mean my cancer will never return.

Like most breast cancer survivors, I can tell you the last date of my chemotherapy appointment as easily as I can tell you my birthday.

I am not planning to take any luxurious vacations at my five-year mark — and would not anyway due to the pandemic — but will write thank you letters to those who supported me during those darkest days in my life and will probably take loved ones to a nice socially-distanced dinner outdoors somewhere.

Shifting Priorities

What I will celebrate, however, are the changes breast cancer forced me to make in my life. A couple years after my last treatment, I decided to live a more balanced life. I left my 80-hour-a-week corporate role in the insurance industry and started looking for a job with a not-for-profit organization that focused on helping children. My now uncertain future altered my thought process on my priorities, including my career, and I felt a strong desire to do something to help the less fortunate.

I completely changed my resume and highlighted volunteer roles I performed during my corporate career. Within a matter of weeks, I was hired to work in a flexible role as a licensed specialist for an organization that helped to license foster families, and also help them navigate the complex child welfare system.

Kristi's Klimbers

Within a couple years of working in this role, I decided to open up a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit, Kristi’s Klimbers Foundation, which will provide financial support and recovery care items for cancer patients. Many of my friends and family members are either officers or board members, and am thrilled this is something we are all able to do together. The organization should be up and running in a few weeks as am waiting for the IRS to officially grant our organization a tax exempt status.

I am a big hiker and also have more time to hike the numerous wonderful trails in Arizona. I have made a list of waterfall hikes I plan to complete this year, and I look forward to hosting fundraising hiking events throughout the southwest when the pandemic is over.

I am much happier now and feel much more fulfilled spending my days helping those in need. After helping insurance companies make money for over 35 years, I finally feel like I am finally doing something “with purpose.”

If my cancer does return, I will have no regrets. I am thankful for the life lessons cancer taught me, including having a greater sense of support and compassion for others and a greater appreciation for the simple things in life.

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