On December 17, 2007, it rained in Reno, Nevada. It’s an important detail to Kristin Sumbot, because if you’re a 17 year-old artist living in the desert, rain matters.
She was sitting in bed listening to the rain tap against her bedroom window as her mind wandered. Rain in Reno usually means snow in the mountains, and Kristin wondered when she might be able to get her snowboard out. She thought about an upcoming student council meeting and the cross-country season that had just ended. She wondered why she had been so tired lately and worried what the blood test might show. Then, trying to be more positive (Kristin was always trying to be more positive), she closed her eyes and imagined a painting that she would create; just as soon as she had a little more energy.
Kristin’s parents came into her room and sat down at the foot of her bed. She could see a tear on her mother’s cheek, or was it a raindrop? She looked to her dad and saw that his eyes were red too. She watched as her parents looked at each other. Kristin could tell, in a way that only children can, that after 20 years of marriage, after raising four children, her parents were looking to each other for strength.
Kristin’s parents took one last deep breath and then they told her. Kristin had been diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia. Time stopped.
“I don’t know how long that moment lasted,” Kristin said, “but it felt like an eternity.”
As time stood still, Kristin thought. And then she spoke. “But I don’t want to have cancer.”
Kristin’s treatment lasted 828 days. “Cancer took so much from me,” she said. “I lost my hair several times, got down to 95 pounds, missed the rest of high school and missed out on all my beloved activities. My ‘friends’ left. They were afraid of me. I felt so alone – dying and alone.”
“For too long I let cancer turn me into a stranger. When I looked into the mirror I didn’t see myself, but I saw a bald, skinny, pale, pitiful stranger. The stranger that I saw reminded me that what I was going through wasn’t a bad dream I could wake up from. And I knew that cancer was greedy and that it loved to take things.”
“So I decided that cancer wasn’t going to take me, and that it wasn’t going to take my hope.” With her new perspective, Kristin began to look at cancer as a “permanent pair of sparkly magic sunglasses.”
“Life is so beautiful when you can see it for what it really is,” she said. “I learned that what really matters in life is family, charity, opportunity and gratitude.”
Kristin’s caregiver during the Nepal trek is her mom, Leslie. The mother-daughter team enjoyed their first day of hiking today from the village of Lukla to Phakding.
“Everything in our lives, from the time of her diagnosis through the cancer journey we walked – all of our experiences – have led us to this moment. The spirit we feel here and the camaraderie of the team has reaffirmed that we are exactly where we’re supposed to be and that we’re doing exactly what we’re supposed to be doing.” Said Leslie.
“And what is it that we’re going to take with us when we leave this life?” Leslie added. “Our experiences. That’s what makes us who we are.”
Kristin’s experiences have certainly shaped her. “While cancer took so much from me, I gained so much more in return. I now live life like it should be – not looking into the rain while longing for normality, but enjoying the rain drops as they kiss my face – and embracing those moments because I’m alive to do so.”