By Kimberly Okabayashi

My name is Kimberly Okabayashi. I came to B.R.A.I.N. last June to teach yoga. Sue  asked me to write about my feelings, faith and trust in God for the last few months.

I have heard stories from survivors about their traumatic brain injuries. It has been a sobering thought that we could be living life to the fullest, climbing a mountain, riding a bike or driving a car, get into an accident, and in that split second, our life changes forever.

For the past five years, I have made it a priority to take care of my body. I would make a kale smoothie for breakfast, buy farm fresh or organic vegetables, cut carbs and cleanse every six months. I would get a physical, and a check-up from my OBGYN once a year. Most years, my doctor would say, “no news is good news, all is well, I’ll call if there is anything unusual.”

Last fall, I got a phone call after the OBGYN check-up. More tests were done. On October 13, 2016 I was diagnosed with Invasive Lobular Carcinoma, a type of breast cancer. While I did not have any symptoms, I felt like my body had been hijacked.
I had heard of the word anxiety, yet I had no idea the extent of consumption it would take. Sure, everyone has some anxiety about taking a test, or moving, or anything that is new. This emotion was like a foreign being that came into my mind and took over. I had met and now lived with anxiety day and night. Anxiety was like an unwelcome guest that wouldn’t leave.

Following surgery in November, my cancer treatment would include 35 treatments of radiation. I had to wait until January to begin radiation. Apparently, doctors like to take time off with their families over the holidays. In the meantime, a physicist would gather all of my lab results and come up with a computerized program designed to pin point any remaining cancer cells and kill them.

In the month prior to radiation, I thought I would get a tattoo in order to share my faith and put a scripture on my arm so that each health professional could see it when they treated me. When I went in to the Cancer Treatment Center at Long Beach Memorial for a walk-through explaining the process, my wish came true with four tiny dots (tattoos) for the set-up of radiation. The four dots were so painful, that ended any thought of a scripture on my arm.

My biggest fear of radiation was being in a room made with cement walls, laying on a table by myself, with a round giant sun beam moving around me, with the ten inch thick door closed, for three minutes. There is also a red light outside the door so that no one walks into the room during the treatment. I still don’t understand how radiation is good for me, but no one else. There would be a camera so the radiologist could see me, and audio so we could talk during the treatment. Once the door was closed, I had to stay still and it would be me and anxiety for three long minutes.

During the first treatment, I asked if I needed to remove any jewelry? The technician said no, the beam would only go to the designated area. I asked if I could hold something in my hand in the future. He said yes.

I had received a box in the mail from my brother who is ten years my senior – the first package I had received from him, ever. He sent me a smooth wooden cross that belonged to my mother. This is a cross that is meant for people with arthritis, it’s formed so it fits comfortably in the hand. When our mother passed from this world, she was holding this wooden cross in her hand. A short note accompanied the cross, “Katie, thought you would like this.” Katie is my niece that wanted to keep the cross as a memento from her grandmother. When I received this, I didn’t know what to do with this, nor understand why they sent it. I tried to be gracious and said thank you.
The wooden cross would become my new friend. I could hold this cross in my hand when I was by myself during radiation treatments. I needed God to hold my hand and let me feel his comfort. During the three minutes of radiation treatment I breathed deeply and prayed, “God, please use this machine to heal me.”

One day at a time, five days a week I have had treatments. I have six more treatments to finish. Anxiety is getting smaller. I have been blessed to have one friend a day take me to treatment the first week and the last two weeks. This part of the journey will end soon. Healing will come.

I still try to take care of myself. In lieu of strenuous exercise, each night I do some stretching and listen to the Psalm’s at the same time. When I’m ready to sleep, I switch from my Bible app to listen to praise music. I drift to sleep with a Psalm in my heart.

I’m an ordinary person that is facing an unexpected challenge. God uses challenges to strengthen us. We each have a challenge. For some reason God allowed my challenge to be cancer. My job as his servant is to decide how I will use this illness to make me into a better person.

There have been many blessings on this path. I was diagnosed early, I have health insurance, my family is well, I have supportive friends that brought me meals and took me to radiation and I have my church family that will pray and walk with me through this storm. As for that tattoo, I’ve decided to leave the ink on paper instead of my skin.

“You are my strength, I sing praise to you; you, God, are my fortress, my God on whom I can rely.”

~ Psalm 59:17