In 2003 these are the words that Kris Carr heard, and in that moment her life changed forever. Needle off the record. Rewind. Stop. Play.
The actress and photographer had just got back from Florida’s Sarasota Film Festival, where she premiered in a film, and was feeling extremely exhausted. She decided to take a break from partying like a rock star, and attended a Jivamukti yoga class, this time it didn’t provide her kick back into her rock on attitude it normally did.
A visit to her doctor returned results that no one is prepared for; he informed her that her liver was covered with tumors, and that she had cancer. She was diagnosed with EHE, epithelioid hemangioendothelioma (yeah, it’s a mouthful!), an extremely rare vascular cancer that affects the lining of ones blood vessels in the liver and lungs. It has no known treatment and is considered “incurable.”
Kris was told that the best approach was to “wait and watch.” Not a likely approach for a vivacious, young woman who was pursuing her dreams. She was Roxy in Chicago, come on!
She decided to do things her way. She took a full force approach in changing her life. Her first scan, she walked in with her favorite cowboy boots and vowed that “Cancer needed a makeover, and I was just the gal to do it!”
So within a few weeks of her diagnosis, she picked up a camera and started documenting her experience with cancer. Her documentary, Crazy Sexy Cancer premiered on TLC Life Lens this August. Shortly after its release her book Crazy Sexy Cancer Tips was released with rave reviews.
I sat down with my dear friend and let her stitch and bitch about this crazy sexy journey she is on. This woman is changing the way we view Cancer forever.
Vanessa: Let’s get this question out of the way quickly, as it seems to be an immediate reaction to your title. What is up with the title “Crazy Sexy Cancer?”
Kris Carr: When I was first diagnosed, I’d e-mail updates to friends, and the subject line was always “Crazy Sexy Cancer.” It was shorthand for saying that even though something really bad had happened, I was still me—and still sexy! If I didn’t poke fun, life would get way too serious. Cancer ISN’T sexy, the soulful women who have it ARE. We are warriors, angels, vibrant hot tomatoes and cancer cannot take that away from us. Cancer cowgirls are empowered, whole, thrivers with or without the disease. I refuse to let cancer break my spirit, victimize me, or make me feel like a sick person – so I CHOOSE to believe that I am more alive, beautiful and yes, sexier (AKA empowered, passionate and intriguing) than ever before! Why not?
V: One point you talk about in Crazy Sexy Cancer Tips is how excruciatingly painful telling your friends and loved ones can be. For you, what is the best way to break the news?
KC: For me, breaking the news and talking about cancer was like listening to the sound of fake nails dragging across a chalkboard. Excruciating. No matter how much I practiced or rehearsed (I have cancer, I have cancer, I have cancer) it was a total disaster! Unfortunately there’s no easy way to do it. You have to go with what feels right for you, it’s definitely an awkward time and it makes you feel like very uncomfortable, like you’re outing yourself.
Telling people does get easier over time, though. It won’t turn on the water works, yours or theirs. People will take your lead so it helps to center yourself. It helped me to know my talking points in case a well meaning guest cornered me with terminal chatter at a cocktail party. There is nothing worse than choking on shrimp as you’re trying to salvage some privacy while talking someone else off a cliff.
Another tip, and this is gonna sound really fluffy, but sometimes it helps to put on some cancer armor. Some people will try and find the cancer, they want to see it and they want you to LOOK sick. That’s why breaking the news while looking fabulous can make you feel like you’re not a sick person. An eyebrow wax, a new bag, some shoes, why not? Cancer really should come with an expense account.
V: Seriously, life should come with an expense account! You hit that right on. When I talk to my friends about you, sometimes those faux pas just fall out. What are some big no-nos?
KC: Here’s a poo-poo no-no, do not call cancer patients victims. That’s a sure fire way to unleash a can of whoop ass! I hate that, it feels so disempowering. Another thing, don’t ask me how long I have to live or try and bond with me by telling me you know someone with cancer and they just died. Wow, is that supposed to bridge the gap between us or send me running to my shrink? People say they don’t know what to say. Well, it’s just common sense. Imagine walking in a cancer patient’s shoes and perhaps it will set you on course. I like it when folks listen and provide space and a safe container for me to share if I want to. What a lovely and compassionate gift. Just be present.
V: I have to make a very clear point about your book and film. The message there can be applied to anyone facing a challenge. I know for myself, growing up with a bipolar mother and being lesbian, I have had my serious cocktail parties with depression. It’s all about empowering yourself by treating your mind and body well. With your fabulous tips (exercising, eating well, meditating), did you practice them B.C (before cancer)?
KC: Well, kinda, but I was more of a weekend warrior. I never really committed to treating myself with respect and self-nurturing. The thought balance made me bored. Wow, was I wrong! When the red phone rang with the cancer diagnosis I finally woke up to what my body and soul were saying for years. Slow down love, take a breath, mother yourself. Cancer can be very chaotic but somehow my diagnosis centered me.
V: You have always known you were meant for something big. But I am sure EHE was not the catalyst you were expecting, but that is exactly what it became for you. Do your doctors acknowledge that your healthy lifestyle and positive attitude are what continues to keep this canSer stable?
KC: Some do, some don’t. Now I’m obviously not a doctor but I am a patient and a survivor and today I feel great, yesterday I felt great and tomorrow I plan on taking over! Since I changed my diet and lifestyle my laundry list of complaints and symptoms have disappeared, plus I’m happier so I must be doing something right. It’s possible to meet our bodies half way and lighten the load. These are challenging times so we need to do our best to make good choices. As I often tell my mom, nothing tastes as good as happy and healthy. One day at a time, one foot in front of the other.
V: Give a little background on your tear down of the word cancer, and replacing it with canSer.
KC: I want to demystify canSer, take control. It does not and will not control my life, so I will not dignify it, and one way I won’t is making sure I spell it wrong. Just my additional fuck you to it. You better not spell it right in this interview!
V: Of course “Fuck Cancer!” your lovely friend Jackie Farry is rocking that sentiment on her kick ass beanies.
KC: She is such an amazing woman!
V: As are you, now, let’s go get a drink, a green one that is.
KC: What are we waiting for!
To learn more about this incredible woman, visit her website at www.crazysexycancer.com. You will not be disappointed.