From the Mouth of God
Kaity Kasper does not wear her heart on her sleeve. But her right arm tells a tale. From wrist to shoulder, this appendage bears a polychromatic narrative of her life, rich in symbolic flora and fauna, indelibly printed deep below the surface, shielded from erasure by the skim ice of the epidermis. Permanent as fable. Lasting as myth. And this allegorical chronicle radiates a truth beyond expression. It tells Kaity’s story, which, though grounded in the concrete, is a spiritual journey that began at birth, and is about to take a detour that will lead her to faraway places where she may discover secrets about life itself.
by Charles McGuigan
Rain has lifted after a week of drumming, and the sun is mostly out, but the lawn chairs still wear a slick of water that Kaity Kasper sponges up with a towel before settling into her seat across from me on the damp deck in her back yard. Traffic out front grinds along Brook Road, and Hope hovers around Kaity, inscribing a circle that none should pass. Hope is Kaity’s dog—bronze coat, brown nose and the same brown eyes of its owner. Hope is extremely protective of Kaity, wouldn’t let anyone bother her, ever, and Hope means business.
Fifteen years ago, Kaity met a young man named Evan. He was studying in Richmond, a brilliant young candidate in the MD PhD program at MCV, doing research at the Massie Cancer Center. In July he took Kaity down to Florida to visit his parents. During that trip both Kaity and Evan contracted strep throat.
“And we had swollen glands and got on antibiotics,” Kaity recalls. Where Evan’s symptoms vanished quickly, Kaity’s was an obstinate case. One of the lymph nodes in her neck refused to deflate.
“So everybody just thought it was this colony of strep that had just built itself up and wouldn’t go away,” says Kaity. “My doctor in Baltimore gave me another round of antibiotics. The node would get smaller, and then it would get big again.”
By October, Kaity was able to find a job in Richmond and move in with Evan. She talked with Evan’s dad, a radiologist, about that one lymph node. “This shouldn’t be happening,” he told her.
In Richmond, her new primary care physician prescribed more antibiotics, and, time and again, the lymph node would get smaller, then swell up. That February, Evan and Kaity went out backpacking in Canyonlands National Park. Kaity, who had always been athletic, was having trouble keeping up with Evan on the trail. She was easily winded and would tire out after slight exertion.
While the pair rested at one point, Kaity dropped her water bottle and Evan went to retrieve it. During that short time she set up her camera, set the timer and prepared to take a photo of herself. After snapping the picture, she went to retrieve the camera and brought her fingers to her neck to scratch an itch, and she made a discovery that would be the first step in a journey that is still just beginning.
“I have the last picture I ever took before cancer became a thing in my life,” Kaity says. “When I itched my neck that day, I felt a second lymph node.”
When Evan returned, with water bottle in hand, Kaity told him what she had found. Evan knew a thing or two about cancer. He knew how to read the signs.
The couple packed out that day and flew back to Richmond. Within a week, doctors performed surgery and removed the first lymph node and biopsied it. She and Evans sat in the ENT’s office and awaited the result.
“Your biopsy came back and it’s malignant,” the ENT specialist told them.
Kaity smiled, and turned to Evan. “That’s the good one, right,” she said.
“No,” he said. “That’s not the good one.”
The doctor gave Kaity a slip of paper with the names of three oncologists on it. As she and Evan left the office and moved to the back of elevators, Kaitie handed the paper over to Evan.
“Which one do I call,” she asked. Her voice was low and quavering.
Evan eyed the names, then balled up the paper, and said, “You don’t call any of them.
At that time, Evan was working in the lab of Dr. Gordon Ginder, the director of Massie Cancer Center and a leading specialist on lymphomas. Evan called Dr. Ginder and set up an appointment almost immediately.
“Dr. Ginder has been my oncologist for the last fourteen years,” Kaity tells me. “And I fully credit him with saving my life that go around. He made sure I had the best care possible. I spent the better part of that year doing chemo and radiation therapy under Dr. Ginder’s supervision. It was stage 2B Hodgkin’s lymphoma. The diagnosis was at the end of March and I finished the radiation the day before Thanksgiving.”
It was a complete and utter cure. Which is not terribly surprising. There is, according to Kaity, about a 90 percent cure rate for Hodgkin’s lymphoma especially for someone in their early twenties. At the time Kaity was just twenty-three. “It was scary,” she says. “But I don’t think I ever thought death was on the table with that one.”
During that year of treatment, Kaity chose her profession. After every round of chemotherapy, Kaity received a care package from her sister-in-law, Pam, who lived in Arizona. In the box, following the second round of chemo, there was a blanket, some slippers, a book and a couple of CDs. Among the film offerings was “Legally Blonde”.
“Evan would get me set up for the day when I was recovering from chemo and then he would go down to Massie for a couple hours and then come back home in the mid-afternoon and spend some time with me’” says Kaity. “This one particular day I watched ‘Legally Blonde’ and by the time he got home I had used what was left of my savings to register to take an LSAT prep course.”
She did better than expected on the LSAT’s and started law school at University of Richmond ten months after her final treatment for Hodgkin’s. After the first month in law school, she and Evan were married. Once she passed the bar, Kaity went to work for Hancock Daniel, Johnson and Nagle, the firm where she’s worked ever since. “I’ve been there my whole career,” she says. “I do commercial litigation, so I specialize in insurance coverage work.”
The couple later moved to Durham so Evan could do his residency at Duke. Kaity commuted, working a few days each week in Richmond, but doing the majority of her work from her home in North Carolina.
Seven years after their marriage, the couple divorced. “When Evan and I started dating, I was still very much who I was in high school,” says Kaity. “I was still painfully shy, very nervous, unsure of myself and just really wasn’t comfortable in who I was. I think the experience of going through cancer and going through law school changed that a lot. We loved each other, but I couldn’t promise him the thing he really wanted. I didn’t see myself as a stay at home mom, and he wanted someone in that role.”
She raises her left arm, which is inscribed with a smattering of tattoos. “I joke about this arm as being a scratch pad of my life,” she says. Kaity points to a tattoo with three simple words—I love you—in the ditch of her arm where ulna and humerus join. “That’s where the infusion site was for my chemo,” she says.
Another tattoo describes two birds in flight. “I heard a sermon a couple years ago about how God doesn’t want us to stay close to our tree where we feel comfortable, he wants us to fly away from the tree and out of our comfort zones to do work there,” she says. “So it’s a reminder to go fly and do the work where I’m not comfortable all the time.”
And there’s also a single semicolon tattoo, as in Project Semicolon, founded in 2013 by Amy Bleuel, and inspired by her own struggle with depression, mental illness, suicide attempts, and the loss of her father to suicide. “It’s a pause, instead of stopping the sentence,” Kaity explains. “You have to pause and realize the story’s going to keep going on. Don’t put an end to it with a period.”
Then her hand brushes a quote that reads, “It’s so awkward to be a Phoenix”, which was written by one of Kaity’s favorite authors, Seth Haines. “It’s a line he wrote to his wife during his first ninety days of sobriety,” she says. “I got that one shortly after I got into the Al-Anon program, and realized the twelve-steps would be one of the key things that helped me in my journey of really rising again from those ashes.”
If that arm is a scratch pad, its sister on the right is a finished canvas. “It’s the story of my Hodgkin’s experience,” says Kaity. “I worked with Katie Davis at Salvation Tattoo Gallery to do it.”
It features the billowing petals of ranunculus and cherry blossoms, three birds and a New Testament quote. “Ranunculus has always been my favorite flower and cherry blossoms symbolize the beauty and fragility of human life,” Kaity says. She rubs her right shoulder, and by so doing, touches the head of an owl. “The owl is for the wisdom that we gain from the experiences in our life,” she says and then moves her hand down to her lower biceps. “The dove represents the Holy Spirt,” she says. “I feel the Holy Spirit guides me in my decisions in the way that I try to lead and live my life. And just from the way I found my way to Dr. Ginder and through my diagnosis and that experience, the Holy Spirit was entwined in that.”
At the bottom is a hummingbird. “He is there for love and laughter and lightness,” Kaity says. And then she reads a passage written on her arm. “It’s half of a quote from Jesus,” she says. “The full quote is ‘You do not realize now what I’m doing, but later you’ll understand.’ It’s about those times we don’t know what it is God is doing through us, but when we look backward later, we understand.”
From the time Kaity Kasper was a child, she had a keen sense of the Divine. She was raised a Catholic in a small town in Connecticut, though her parents weren’t particularly devout. “I don’t remember going to church as family very often,” says Kaity. “But I do remember there was this small church you could walk to from our house and I remember taking myself there and I couldn’t really figure out why. At an oddly young age I would go to the self- help section of the library and get these books out by rabbis and I would lay in the backyard and underline them in pencil. I was probably twelve or thirteen when I started doing this. I was just interested in what they were saying and what they were talking about. It always felt to me like God was doing something here.” When her parents divorced, her mother took a job as a gym teacher in the local parochial school. “So the class would go to first Friday mass together and I remember very clearly I would always pray while I was there that you’d hear about all the sacraments and you would hear about Holy Orders and I would always pray that God would call me to a nun,” Kaity says. “I would always say, ‘God, that’s what I want to do, please call me to be a nun.’ I remember being so disappointed and thinking something was so wrong with me because God didn’t want me to be a nun and I couldn’t figure it out. But I’ve always had, from a very young age, some connection to that, and an unwavering knowing He was there for me.”
Kaity had converted to Judaism, the faith of her former husband, and she stuck with it for a year after their divorce. Then she tried returning the religion of her birth, but that didn’t work. “I felt stalled and I felt like God kept saying to me, ‘There’s something else that has to break out here, and you’re not going to find it in this cathedral,’” she says. “And so I ended up exploring some other churches throughout Richmond during that time, and that was really when things got a little bit more serious for me.”
That’s when she began to view yoga and meditation more seriously. “I think through those disciplines He (God) was able to speak to me more clearly,” Kaity says. “I was learning the value of listening in prayer. How it can be a two-way dialogue. Once that happened it became the no turning back point. It was a stirring that kept getting louder and louder.”
That was about five years back, when Kaity learned what yoga is really about from Dana Walters of Om On Yoga on Libbie Avenue. “Through her I really started to discover the ways that yoga can change not just our physical body, but our spiritual and emotional bodies,” says Kaity. “Once I got there, it became really apparent to me that the connection I had been looking for was going to come from God and one- on-one time.”
On March 21 of this year Kaity was diagnosed with ovarian cancer.
“It came completely came out of the blue as ovarian cancer is wont to do,”Kaity says. “I had a partial hysterectomy. They were able to keep my uterus, but I lost both ovaries, my fallopian tubes, my appendix, seven lymph nodes, the tumors I had developed, and a ton of fluid that had built up over about a month.”
She was enrolled in a clinical trial down at Massie Cancer Center, where she had done years of volunteer work. It was a grueling chemotherapy, one week on, one week off, a total of six rounds, and each bout left Kaity annihilated.
The prognosis for her kind of ovarian cancer is not good. “Ovarian cancer only has a twenty percent cure rate,” says Kaity. “And less than fifty percent of women that are diagnosed with it are expected to live for five years. I’m thirty seven and I was like, ‘I already did cancer, what the hell is going on?’ I could not even get my head around the fact that this was happening again, fourteen years after I did it the first time.”
When she returned to her home in Bellevue she assumed a number of her close friends would be there for her. But that was not to be the case. “My very best friend lives in California—he’s like my brother—and he couldn’t even talk to me because rhe thought I was going to die. I thought people were going to be in the mud with me and I was really, really pissed with God for a while. ‘What are you doing? You’re taking all my people away.’” And then she breathed deeply and opened herself up.
“God created this situation where I was forced to be alone with him in this,”Kaity says. “God could not have done the work that he needed and wanted to do with me in this space, if I was not alone. I have a lot of childhood trauma around abandonment and so this triggered those abandonment issues when my people didn’t show up. I think that’s what plunged me directly into the dark. You take a cancer diagnosis and add abandonment on top of it, then you will plummet to darker places than you thought possible.”
In those dark nights of the soul—and there were many of them—Kaity learned something that most of us will never begin to understand. “Regardless of what other people may do, God is never going to abandon me,” she says. “God gave me just enough support so that I always had food, I always had someone to talk to if I really needed, I always had the thing that I needed provided for me, but what I needed was the experience of realizing that I won’t abandon myself and God won’t abandon me, and that’s actually enough. You can get through the worst kind of crap if you know those two things.”
Not long ago, Katiy came to a startling revelation. For many years, after the cure of her Hodgkin’s lymphoma, Catie became a spokesperson for Massie Cancer Center for their fundraisers. She said the following more than one hundred and fifty times: “I am someone your donation would help because I have a greater than one hundred percent chance of developing cancer again.” She said this because she carries the BRCA1 gene mutation, has endured radiation and chemo therapy, and, of course, had had Hodgkin’s. Last month, while attending a yoga function in Floyd County, something occurred to Kaity that caused her mind to reel. “I have been learning about the power of our words, and the things we say and I was thinking of the times I said, ‘I have a hundred percent change of developing cancer’, and it smacked me in the face in Floyd that day. I said that out loud almost two hundred times over the course of four years. I’m pretty well convinced I manifested this thing.”
The moment that thought crystalized, Kaity felt her stomach drop. “Oh my God,” she thought. “I did this to myself. What in the world?”
It took her a time to regain composure, and then she began to understand that she was learning something from this. “It’s disturbing on multiple levels,” says Kaity. “But it’s also really encouraging to me because it demonstrates to me so clearly that if I could manifest it into existence, I could manifest it away. I have the ability to make sure it doesn’t happen again.”
Recently, Kaity made a decision that some might think unwise. For many cancer patients, doctors administer a CA 125 test to monitor the patient’s blood to ensure cancer has not recurred. The normal range in healthy patients is 5 to 20; Kaity’s CA 125 was 208. Through the course of the chemotherapy those levels dropped to between 198 and 134, but they fluctuated within that range after each chemo treatment. One doctor recommended that Kaity receive chemotherapy for the rest of her life as long as her body could endure it. This same physician told her the cancer was incurable.
But Kaity was hearing another voice that she had become accustomed to.
“I heard God’s voice, clear as day, say ‘Do not do any more chemotherapy, that’s not what you need,’” says Kaity. “I am someone who hears a voice that’s not mine when it’s God communicating with me. God to me is a man. It’s a slightly deeper voice than how I hear my own voice, and it comes from a different place. When I hear my own thoughts they come from the brain. When I hear something that’s coming from God it’s coming from my core.”
So she opted out of chemotherapy. And she prayed to God that here numbers drop by at least five points. A month after she stopped treatment, Kaity’s numbers had dropped from 198 to 68. “It still boggles my mind,” she says, and she cries in a burst of joy. “This was just last August.”
Soon, Kaity will embark on a journey of discovery and bring back secrets that will help others heal themselves. “This is going to be an eighteen-month exploration,” she says. “God wants me in certain spots. Sedona, Ojai, Big Sky, Lourdes, Costa Rica, the Holy Land. Those are some of the places, there will be others and I will be guided to them.”
It is as if God had plucked her for this purpose. “I think what He wants me to do is to bring this stuff back and through writing and speaking and working with people one-on-one to help people learn how we can walk in faith in such a way that allows us to tap into the voice of the Holy Spirit, Creator, Universe, Source, whatever you want to call it,” she says. “If you’re attuned to God, He will show you where to go and what to do and he’ll deliver you, but you have to be willing to listen and to hear it.”
Through the afternoon some clouds have moved back in, but they don’t seem to threaten rain, they just block out the sun. Kaity’s dog Hope nestles its snout in her lap, and she strokes its ears.
“I would never pray to have cancer, but I got it, I needed it, and I’ve learned tremendous amounts through it,” says Kaity Kasper. “If you really can surrender things, that’s when beauty starts to happen. It just doesn’t appear in the way we want it to. I did not want my healing to take the form of a partial hysterectomy and chemotherapy and all the various things I’ve gone through in the past six months. That is not what I pictured in my head. Would I trade it now? No, because there’s been so much beauty brought in through that horrible time. If you ask me if I would willingly go through this again, I would say no, but I wouldn’t take it back.”