Caryn's Wild Ride

My inside out reality

In January of 2013 it became painfully evident that I could no longer hold things inside like I had for 34 years. It started the month prior when I spent three weeks in Italy with my fiancé on our honeymoon. We decided to take the trip of a lifetime just before we got married. After our Italian adventure we would reunite with our family in Spain over Christmas and tell them about our travels. The next week we would welcome friends and celebrate New Year's Eve, our wedding day. It was a plan I envisioned and mapped out completely. I was beyond excited.

However, plans changed dramatically. My husband and I floated through Italy, and while we were in Venice I started to notice serious abdominal pain and challenges using the bathroom. We returned to Spain as planned and stayed in a flat in the heart of Barcelona with our family during the week of Christmas. A few days later, we took the train down to our sacred, coastal wedding town to check into our house on the hill where we planned to stay with our friends. We moved into our airbnb rental, greeted the first few friends, and stocked up on groceries for our big crowd to spend many hours talking, laughing, and celebrating.

On December 29, we met friends in Barcelona for a night of wine and tapas. It was our pseudo rehearsal dinner, where we saw most of our tribe for the first time. The loose plan was to spend the evening raising our glasses for as long as the last person cheered "Salut!".

But instead of having everything pan out the way we imagined, the road diverged in a way that no one would have predicted. Shortly after we arrived at the restaurant to have dinner, my husband-to-be asked me if I was alright. The expression on my face must have been alarming because he moved through a crowded room to reach me in a matter of nanoseconds. I explained that I was still feeling the abdominal pain I had been experiencing for months. Only now it was much worse.

We left the restaurant immediately. An interesting turn of events, we had anxiety in our hearts. We walked just a couple doors down to the pharmacia and bought suppositories. You can imagine the expression on the clerk's face when a dozen of us burst through the door with a buzz late at night making this request. She was definitely confused. Knowing I could not stay out and enjoy myself, my sister-in-law and I took the train back to my family's apartment.

There were a series of events that took place in attempt to relieve my constipation and consequent pain including a trip to the hospital. After a short visit, the healthcare provider prescribed me a mild pain reliever and two enemas. I tried everything. There were no results. I even tried eating high fiber foods to initiate a movement. Nothing.

Then came December 31, the day I planned to get married. After feeling ill and finding it difficult to take short walks even while escorted by my mom, I went back to the hospital. Blood work and many scans later, the doctors confirmed I had a serious obstruction in my large intestine. I needed surgery right away. An avid runner and yogi, my family was baffled upon finding out about the blockage. I had always been the healthiest one in our family. Relative statement...

Hours later, I had surgery to remove the malignant tumor. Just two days after waking up in ICU from a medically induced coma, my large intestine perforated. My kidneys began to fail I was rushed into another emergency surgery. Hours later, I woke up again in ICU with a colostomy.

And then I woke up.

I slowly came out from the anesthesia. All the while I experienced one moment after another that quite literally shook my soul, opened my mind, and burst my heart wide open. This is my personal awakening story.

I spent 24 days in the Spanish hospital and returned home shortly thereafter. In eleven months, I spent over two months in the hospital, endured six months of chemotherapy, ten months living with an ostomy, and a total of four major abdominal surgeries. Through it all I stayed as active as possible, coaching myself to stay strong and vibrant by doing yoga regularly at Mission Yoga and Charleston Power Yoga, taking regular runs, and rock climbing. I was able to move forward, less the self criticism and doubt I had always known. I went on my first rock climbing trip to Moab, UT with First Descents and ran the Charleston Cooper River Bridge Run, a race I do every year in the spring, hooked up to chemo.

I found strength and focus that went way beyond what I had ever experienced. The daily dedication surpassed the Nike Marathon in San Francisco and certainly trumped drowning my sorrows at local nightclubs like I did after my dad passed. But it wasn't forced. The most beautiful part of it all was that I learned to just be. I love and respect my healthcare team, but I also had questions no one was answering satisfactorily. So I dove into holistic healing and began to trust myself, the process, and live a more conscious lifestyle.

After my brush with the crossroads between life and death, I am thankful to know how life feels as it comes to an end. It is raw. It is beautiful. It is perfect. Now the presence of fear is so insignificant to my purpose in this life. I can't wait to share the rest with you.

Photo taken five months after my ostomy "take down" for Charlie Mag's 50 Most Progressive.