Up until a few months ago, Kt Kieltyka felt like your average post-grad-- she moved to New York after school to pursue a career in writing, but found herself working a dismal desk job to make ends meet. When a winter cold turned into a sickness she couldn't shake, Kt went to a doctor for an X-ray and was told she had a tumor (three tumors, to be exact). In April, the day after her 24th birthday, Kt was diagnosed with Hodgkin Lymphoma-- a form of cancer that affects over 8,000 people in the US per year, many of them young adults. Hodgkin Lymphoma is treatable, and Kt caught it early, so she could start chemotherapy right away; but that meant moving back to Long Island to live with her parents during treatment. Determined to keep writing, stay busy, and share her story with others, Kt started blogging. Her blog The Hodge (Kt's nickname for the disease) documents her treatment and her life; it can be devastatingly poignant and laugh-out-loud funny in the same entry. I talked to Kt about "the C-word" and how The Hodge has helped her make the best of it.
On Life Before The Hodge—and After It, Too:
Before I was diagnosed, I was living in Brooklyn and actively floundering, trying to get a job that would fulfill me as well as pay rent. I had been working as a receptionist/desk monkey for about a month when I was diagnosed, and a part of me was seriously happy that I had a really good reason to quit besides being generally miserable there. That was the first silver lining I found in getting sick.
I’ve had what I think is the typical response to dealing with a serious illness in that I now take less for granted, but in terms of life goals not much has changed; I still want the experimental experience of a 20-something in New York, and ultimately, I still want to somehow make a living as a writer. I guess what’s changed is my motivation to make a serious attempt at living a satisfying life.
The decision to start blogging was borne out of a deal I made with my parents—they’d let me move back in and financially (and emotionally, duh) support me during treatment as long as I did something productive with my time. It was also a practical decision in that it cut down on the number of phone calls and emails I would get from friends and family wanting to know how I was doing. Not that I didn’t appreciate the support—it was just easier for everyone.
There’s this Joan Didion quote: “I write entirely to find out what I'm thinking, what I'm looking at, what I see and what it means. What I want and what I fear.” Writing helped me to make sense of what was happening. I sat down to write the first entry and suddenly two hours had passed by. It was an extremely cathartic experience, and it has continued to be.
On “Cancer Blogs,” Connecting, and Fran Drescher:
I have gotten really positive feedback on my blog, but because I’m actually really self-conscious about my writing, my mind immediately goes to “They’re just saying that because I have cancer.” I can usually shake that off when someone tells me they’ve found my story helpful in regards to something they were going through in their life. That’s happened a bunch of times, and I always feel like, “Yes, this was worth it.”
Cancer blogs are a thing the way Mommy blogs are a thing. There’s a huge culture created around sickness that you don’t understand until you’re a part of it, and I think you need to insert yourself into it as much as helps you to do so. I was very much afraid of being mired in it, so I didn’t read much about cancer at all, with the exception of Cancer Schmancer by Fran Drescher, which was sent to me by a friend. The Nanny knows what’s up.
The Treatment Process:
After chemo, which lasted four months and, um, sucked, radiation has been a walk in the park. I’m very close to feeling like myself again. I have about six sessions of radiation left, and then (knock on wood) I should be done. I have to get periodic PET scans for the next 10 years, I think, to make sure everything is still copasetic.
Kt’s Favorite Entry on The Hodge:
My favorite post is called Huevos Rancheros. I went through an egg freezing process before starting chemo, which temporarily turned me into a psychotic person. I had to self-administer hormone injections and get daily internal sonograms for weeks before the eggs could be extracted, which culminated with me giving myself the “trigger shot”—a mix of powder and liquid that had to be mixed and then injected into my stomach the night before the extraction operation-- in the bathroom of the Angelika Theater. I know, disgusting, but I had arranged to see a friend who was visiting from Australia before I knew I had to give myself the shot that night. My friend was in the bathroom stall with me, and we were freaking out about doing it right. After I wrote about it, I found out a girl who worked at the publishing house I interned at was in the next stall, thinking she was listening to two very inexperienced heroin addicts. The extraction happened on Cinco De Mayo, hence the Spanish title.
The Hardest Entry to Write:
A friend of mine’s younger brother got into a fatal car accident towards the end of July, which coincided with that horrible shooting in Oslo and treatment starting to get really tough, and I was just crying in my bed even though I had to be at chemo. The entry I wrote about that was only a few sentences long because I felt the need to write even though I didn’t know how to convey the despondency and hopelessness I felt. I wrote “I feel really down today” when I meant “Everything hurts, the world sucks, and I don’t think I can do this anymore,” but I didn’t want anyone to worry about me.
On the Importance of an Awesome Support System:
I don’t think I have the ability to convey to anyone the amount of love I have for my friends and family. The gratitude I feel towards my parents, especially, is so monumental-- I feel it physically deep inside my chest when I think about everything they’ve done for me these past six months. I just feel astronomically lucky to have the people I do in my life.
On Vanity and Rocking a Buzz Cut:
Losing my hair has given me more ups and downs than any other side effect. At first, there’s the initial sadness and self-consciousness that you’d imagine most 24 year-old women would feel. Like, WHAT am I going to look like bald? There’s also the added realization and disappointment that you’re maybe more vain than you’d like to be. When my hair actually started to fall out in clumps, I cried so hard I gave myself a migraine, but the next day my little brother shaved my head and lifted me instantaneously out of that place. I don’t think he knows how much that meant to me.
I became less self-conscious of what I looked like and more acutely aware that people could tell I was sick. I went through chemo in the summer, and wearing a wig was unbearably hot, so I went for hats. It was this unique kind of embarrassment that comes from a place of not wanting to be pitied. I’d be at the beach, hesitating to take my hat off and freak people out. In the end, my desire to go swimming and generally not giving a shit would win out, but there was always that moment before I took the hat off.
Kt rocking her hair growth. She says she's excited to see her natural color again, because she can't remember what it is.
My hair’s been growing for about a month and a half now, and I’ve got a sixth grade boy flip going on. I get looks on Long Island that I wouldn’t get in Brooklyn, but mostly I blend in, which I never thought I’d enjoy, but it’s nice. I want to say I keep running my fingers through my hair, but petting myself on the head is probably more accurate.
I literally think on this all year long. For a while, when I thought I still wouldn’t have any hair by now, the plan was to be Tommy Pickles from Rugrats (the one time I wouldn’t have to purchase a bald cap!), but I just really have no desire to wear an adult diaper and a belly shirt. Then I thought of being a voodoo doll to go along with the whole being stuck with needles thing, but my mom told me “not to mess with voodoo.” There was also a moment last week when I considered being the cray cray Black Swan, but I have never seen a tiara look more awkward. So I’m going to be a Dia de los Muertos “Lady of the Dead.” The modern look is based off an etching from 1913 called La Calavera Catrina, which translates to “elegant skull.” I’ve been watching makeup tutorials for about a month now on YouTube.
La Calavera de Catrina, Jose Guadalupe Posada. Art Through Time.
On Baking and Being a Butter Lover:
I’m trying to live a healthier life in all aspects, but I really love baking and anything Paula Deen creates. Her recipe for Caramel Apple Cheesecake is so easy and scrumptious and really good for reveling in autumn.
The Write Way to Go:
I am in the very beginning steps of making a general lady interest blog with this girl I went to college with. (Author’s note: That’s me!)
I do want to write a book about the Hodge. I’m almost at the place where I have enough distance from everything that I can look down on the story from above, so to speak, and properly tell it.
Be honest with yourself about how you’re feeling and know that asking for help when you need it doesn’t make you weak.
Get in touch with Kt at firstname.lastname@example.org.
American Cancer Society