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Christynn's Walk: Local woman tackles cancer on her own terms

Editor's note: Christynn Holt is a longtime resident of our local community. She was recently diagnosed with ovarian cancer and due to circumstances beyond her control, has no resources to aid in her fight or to pay for her daily subsistence. The author is a personal friend who is sharing Christynn's story with the hopes of not only helping her, but to also spread greater awareness about this difficult disease.

“The best effect of fine persons is felt after we have left their presence.” -- Ralph Waldo Emerson

One cannot help but dearly love Christynn Holt.

She is one of those fine people that Emerson referred to, whose essence continues to touch you long after you have parted ways. I know, because until just recently, I had very little communication with Christynn since the early '90s - when we served together in the Navy on a ship out of San Diego. Even so, she left an indelible mark on my heart and I never forgot her.

I currently live in Michigan, having returned there for family reasons more than a decade ago. Thankfully, Facebook and getting back in touch with a mutual friend facilitated the rediscovery of my shipmate, who still lives in San Diego.

I was fortunate enough several weeks ago to return to San Diego for a visit and am so very grateful and honored to have the opportunity to further our friendship. The synchronicity - and the timing of this reconnection - is one I do not take lightly.

In late December 2009, Christynn was diagnosed with stage III ovarian cancer. She had been having stomach pain for a couple of weeks before getting in to see a doctor.

After an examination, an ultrasound and a subsequent CT scan, it was determined that there was not only a cancerous mass in her lower abdominal region, but also that the cancer had spread into her diaphragm. She also had been having difficulty breathing and her stomach was very distended; both a result of excessive water retention - affects of the cancer.

According to medicinenet.com, "ovarian cancer is the fifth leading cause of cancer deaths in women and frequently does not result in symptoms until the cancer has spread extensively. Less than one-third of ovarian cancers are detected before they have spread outside of the ovaries."

As a result, most women - as in Christynn's case - are in later stages of the disease by the time it is pinpointed.

Christynn's diagnosis was made even more difficult because her insurance company kept denying coverage of necessary tests. The initial, required CT scans of her abdomen were denied twice and only approved after one of her doctors had a one-on-one consultation with her HMO's review board. Next, the CT scan of her chest - required to see if the cancer had spread to her lungs - was also denied.

"I want to use my energy to fight my cancer, not my insurance company," Christynn said in one of her many journal entries describing those difficult first weeks.

Once you are told you might have cancer, any delay in the process of detection and/or eradication causes additional conflict and stress for the patient, and unfortunately Christynn experienced this. It was absolutely unnecessary, but seemingly standard practice for many HMOs prior to health care reform.

Christynn's next struggle was income. The Post Office wouldn't extend her sick leave and she found out that as a federal employee, she would not be eligible for state disability insurance. She was approved for SSI, but not until July; leaving her without necessary resources until then. That's when her friends gathered together to find creative ways to raise funds for her, and creative they have been.

The new year found her starting chemotherapy and understandably, a little numb.

“I was in total shock initially,” she confided to me on my recent visit. “And, for a minute there, I really thought I was going to die.”

As time progressed, however, the chemo began to take affect and the doctors were able to get a handle on her side-affects. Christynn became more hopeful and began to really believe that she could beat this thing.

Not long after starting chemo, she also decided to start a CaringBridge journal, where she could begin documenting her feelings and the steps of her journey. CaringBridge is a free, nonprofit Web service that connects family and friends to share information, love and support during a serious health event, patient care and recovery.

Shortly thereafter, Shannon Shubert - one of her many friends and a social media whiz - helped her set-up a Facebook Fan page, where she could share her story with an even larger audience and help spread awareness at the same time. As of publication time, she already had 1,007 fans.

Christynn took the time in a Facebook "Note" page to describe her story in amazingly cathartic detail. Reading her entries helps both friends and the general public who share an interest in her plight, understand everything a little better and see the process through her eyes.

Her journey has not only impacted her daily routine, but rejuvenated her faith and she now prays regularly.

In her online journal she writes, “Sometimes we just have to allow ourselves the time to go through what we need to go through and have faith that we are in the right place. Faith is something that I struggled with before this cancer thing. I’ve always believed in God. I would pray to God, but when it actually came down to trusting God and letting go of the outcome (faith) I fell short.

"During this journey I think I am being taught a lesson because I‘ve had absolutely no choice but to let go. I’ve had no control of the outcomes and no idea how things would work out. The only thing I am able to do is pray. At this point I realize that’s all I ever really needed to do in the first place. Sometimes everything has to be stripped away before one can accept the truth … for me that was the reality. I had no other option but to have faith.

"FAITH has changed my life in this short period of time. Miracles are happening all around me. I don’t know how, but every month my bills are getting paid. God has placed a lot of little angels in my life. IT MUST BE FAITH. Having FAITH has provided much comfort. Knowing that God will carry me, I am free.”

Christynn was mostly brought up in life by her grandmother and had not seen her family for the better part of 15 years, she told me. In February, a visit home to Dallas and a reconnection with them did her heart good…the reasons for their estrangement are varied and irrelevant at this juncture in her life. Now it is just about the love and the support she needs; all superfluous bullshit has fallen away.

It was in 1992 that she enlisted in the Navy and requested to be stationed in San Diego, which is where she has been ever since and calls home. Her young life - she turned 40 in recent weeks - has entailed much.

“I love working with the public,” she has said. “Assisting others fills my soul and gives my life purpose.”

Not only did she serve four years in the military, but she also worked as a disaster assistance employee for the Federal Emergency Management Agency. She also worked for an ambulance service and for the California Department of Forestry as a firefighter. Additionally, she was a member of a San Diego search and rescue team, and presently works for the Post Office. Do you see a common thread here? This is an individual that has given of herself, time and time again.

After nine weeks of chemotherapy, a CT scan done in early March revealed that the tumor had shrunk enough that the doctors felt they could now perform surgery to remove it; along with some lymph nodes and undergo other procedures as necessary. Once she has recovered enough from the surgery, she will begin yet another difficult round of chemotherapy to take up where the surgery left off and hopefully completely eradicate the cancer from her body.

“What are your thoughts, my friend?” I query as we survey the vast ocean below us, from the Torrey Pines Parasailing Observation point.

The wind was too light that day for the others who had gathered with their gear, hoping to partake in the freedom of flight, but it was a gorgeous day, nonetheless. The air was cool and refreshing.

“I wish I was flying,” Christynn said longingly. The sun illuminated her meaning.

Prior to our stop there, we had gone to Scripps Green for a shot necessary to promote white blood cell growth - a measure which would both ensure resistance to infection and prepare her for surgery.

Again, as was becoming annoyingly the norm, her insurance company had not yet approved the $6,000 injection by the time we had arrived. Christynn had to wait for approval and return when it was received; and so the roller coaster raced on.

“I never imagined myself living this way…ever,” she mused. "It is so very frustrating.”

When we served together onboard the ship, the difference in age (but mostly rank) limited how close we could become. Nevertheless, I saw some of myself at that age in Christynn…young, a bit reckless, smart - but not always making the smartest decisions. And so I kept watch.

We "senior" lesbians looked out for - and often spoke on behalf of - our more junior sailors many a time without them ever being aware of it. A simple “yes, she is definitely worth saving” to a higher ranking person who respected our input, often kept them out of at least SOME of the hot water they seemed always on the verge of diving into!

And so it was with Christynn. I remember sitting at a make-shift bar in Bahrain during the Persian Gulf War, urging her to head back to the ship instead of choosing to stick around longer and possibly be charged with Unauthorized Absence (UA). For whatever reason – she listened to me! And maybe that was one of the things that endeared her to me. Pure and simple - she was a real character - or an 'imp' as I would often call her. Tempting fate at every turn, but so sweet and so funny one just could not stay upset with her for long.

She still makes me laugh; and all these years later she is still such an imp - with a mischievous childlike quality about her. Even when she frustrates the HELL out of me – I cannot help but laugh.

During my visit, I found out in pretty short order how much she loves her dogs, Gaia (pronounced Guy-ah) a blue Great Dane, and Maddie, her Golden Retriever. Because Maddie is older and finds it harder to get around, he did not join us when we walked Gaia. Or should I say when Gaia walked us. No – when Gaia and Christynn walked me! That’s more accurate. It took everything for me to not only keep up, but breathe at the same time!!!

My friend’s resolve and determination and energy – despite having just completed another round of chemotherapy – despite her fatigue - simply amazed me. I am in awe of her resilience. Her example speaks volumes to me about simply BEING ALIVE.

She defies what is happening to her … not denies – but defies. In the face of this cancer, she has done nothing but participate so fully in life – assisting on the search for local missing teen Chelsea King in the rain, helping set up her fundraisers, and yes – even accommodating me while I was there visiting. Giving selflessly, once again, of her time.

Sadly, my visit came to a close. Christynn thoughtfully picked up scones for us to share with coffee before my departure back to Michigan. As we broke bread together, I looked across the table at my friend and considered the blessing of her presence in my life.

Her keen sense of humor incites laughter easily and the sometimes, somewhat tough exterior, belies her tender heart. She is kind and thoughtful, sentimental and sweet - the type of friend who would move mountains to be there for you and with you, through anything…the kind of friend that you just can’t ever spend enough time with. In the short time we have spent together, she has taught me much about faith and hope and friendship and love and life!

“Catch you later, MF!” I said affectionately as she dropped me at the airport curb.

We laughed, embraced and parted ways. However, I knew I was not saying good-bye to my dear friend. Christynn is strong, positive, and very full of life and love. My sights are set only on the next time we say hello, once again.

As of this writing, Christynn has undergone surgery and is presently recovering at Scripps Green Hospital in La Jolla. She has a very long recovery period ahead of her at home as well, and she needs our help. The author will be back to visit next week in time for the next fundraiser. Christynn's loved ones are all hoping she is strong enough to personally greet everyone who attends.

How you can help

A series of fundraisers have been planned to help Christynn pay for her living and medical expenses. So far her devoted friends and fans have raised approximately $3,650 through a special Unity Party at the Flame held March 22 and a yard sale the same weekend.

Rock-n-Roll Benefit

To continue bridging her financial gap, Say Lula Salon located at 955 S. 16 St., San Diego 92113, is hosting a fundraiser Friday April 16, 2010 at 8 p.m. The event will have food, drinks, a raffle, and live entertainment featuring popular singer Corday. Corday will keep the energy high while donations are being accepted and raffle numbers for fabulous door prizes are being called. Please come out and join in the fun and support Christynn.

Softball tournament

Christynn has been a longtime member of America's Finest City Softball League (AFCSL). Her many friends in the league have decided to take the net proceeds from the second annual Sweet Madness tournament, held this coming Memorial Weekend and donate them to Christynn. They are calling it Homerun for Christynn and hope to get 20 teams to participate. It takes place May 28 and 29 at Kit Carson Park in Escondido.

Online book auction

Additionally in May, award-winning Bold Strokes Books author Kim Baldwin will be offering an online auction of all her published works (15 books) to help Christynn. The winner of the auction will receive personally inscribed copies of Kim's six solo novels: Hunter's Pursuit, Force of Nature, Whitewater Rendezvous, Flight Risk and Breaking the Ice, along with the Elite Operatives books she co-authors: Lethal Affairs, Thief of Always, and Missing Lynx.

Kim is also throwing in inscribed copies of the six anthologies she's in: Erotic Interludes 2: Stolen Moments; Erotic Interludes 3: Lessons in Love; Erotic Interludes 4: Extreme Passions; Erotic Interludes 5: Road Games; Romantic Interludes 1: Discovery and Romantic Interludes 2: Secrets. The winner will also appear as a character in Kim's next solo novel. Check out Kim's website at www.kimbaldwin.com in mid-May for details.

Mary Kay products

Julie Stidham doesn't even know Christynn, but she's felt the affects of cancer in her own family, so when one of her high school pals was talking up Christynn's story on Facebook, she knew she had to get involved. She is offering 50 percent of her profits of Mary Kay cosmetic sales to Christynn's cause. She and her husband are also donating items for the raffle on April 16th. If you live far away and can't participate in any of the local fundraisers, check out www.marykay.com and email her at juliestidham@marykay.com.

New fundraising ideas pop up every day on Christynn's Facebook pages. Get connected and stay tuned.

Mary Jo Matheson is a guest contributor for SDGLN. Matheson was a columnist for the San Diego gay and lesbian weekly Update before and after retiring from the Navy as a senior chief petty officer in 1997. She now calls Grand Rapids, Mich., her home, but still has many ties left here in San Diego. She can be reached via e-mail at lifeizshort@comcast.net.

Morgan M. Hurley, Copy Editor for SDGLN, contributed to this article.