Kristen Wilson’s medical struggles opened the door to her newfound love for yoga. After being diagnosed with a rare form of cancer, she is currently recovered and enjoying her new adventures of life with a whole new outlook. Today she shares her passion of yoga with others as an instructor at Flow Town Yoga in Florence.
Kristen grew up in Washington, Indiana, for about 13 years before moving to Florence for her stepfather’s job with OTIS Elevator. She attended West Florence High School and graduated in the top of her class with the honor of the board of trustees. In August of 2016, at the beginning of her senior year, Kristen developed a severe cough which could not be suppressed with any medications. After going to the doctor multiple times, they finally advised her to get an x-ray to see if she had pneumonia. “I would cough all day long, disrupting class. I was so embarrassed,” says Kristen. “Around November I began to notice my ribs and how much weight I had lost. I looked so unhealthy.”
On Thanksgiving Day, at a table full of great food and company, Kristen recalls that the room started to spin, leaving her nauseous. After an x-ray, her lungs looked abnormal. A CAT scan showed a tumor that was bigger than a softball in her upper middle chest, which was pressing her esophagus to the far right and pushing her lungs to the far walls of her ribs, pushing onto her heart. “It was no wonder I could not breathe properly,” explains Kristen. A surgical biopsy was performed at MUSC. Kristen shares, “They couldn’t seem to get the strands they needed for a diagnosis. We were in a panic because the pressure from the tumor caused a plural and cardial effusion, fluid in the lining of the lungs and heart. This was life-threatening due to the fact that the pressure from the fluid could suppress my heart from beating.” Another surgical biopsy was completed, and after much time living in the hospital, they finally found an answer.
Eight days after Kristen’s 18th birthday, on December 12, 2016, she was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer called 2B Bulky Hodgkin’s lymphoma. She started treatment immediately with 5 rounds of chemotherapy, 21 days per round, followed by 14 rounds of radiation. After much pain and trauma, Kristen finished treatment in June of 2017.
Kristen decided to take a year off to focus on recovering before attending college. She was exhausted, weak, and bald. Veronica, the owner of Flow Town Yoga, heard about Kristen and her story and reached out to Kristen’s mother via Facebook. Veronica wanted to see if Kristen would be interested in free one-on-one private yoga sessions to help her rehabilitate. “I had never done yoga before, but I desperately wanted to feel normal again, so I hopped on the opportunity to go,” says Kristen. Little did Kristen know, Veronica and yoga would end up changing her life.
After about six private sessions, Veronica believed Kristen was ready to take on public classes. “She saw hope in me. She saw the warrior within me and the light I have,” shares Kristen. “She helped me in more ways than physical. Veronica welcomed me with open arms and an open heart, to her family and her life. She is like a mother to me. She is a huge reason that I am still here today, fighting.” Eventually, a yoga training was offered at Flow Town but Kristen did not even consider it until Veronica and her family encouraged her to attend. Veronica sponsored Kristen so she could complete a 200 hour Expand Your Power Baptiste Yoga training. After many hard and long weekends, Kristen graduated with ten other trainees. Kristen shares, “Aside from beating cancer once, this is to date one of my proudest accomplishments. Cancer has opened my mind and has given me a new perspective on life. It has taught me so much and how much I can do.”
Kristen is about a year out of her treatment and is waiting to see if she will relapse. If so, she will have to undergo more treatment. However, her life is heading in a positive direction. She is currently a yoga instructor at Flow Town Yoga and is also enrolled in Francis Marion University’s Pre-Vet program. “I am strong, brave and new,” says Kristen. “I believe everything happens for a reason, and cancer has made me a better human.” Kristen has truly fallen in love with yoga and enjoys the relationships she has made as an instructor. “It has shaped me mentally, physically and emotionally. I love that I can have an impact on others through my words and sharing my heart. So many things in life are out of my control, but just from the time I step on my mat, I can let everything go and just be. I can breathe and flow and feel the energy within myself. I see my inner beauty. Yoga is a lifestyle.”
A Note from Kristen: “I would like to give a special thank you to my mother, Mindy Lengacher, and step-father, Jay Lengacher, for never leaving my side and taking care of me, even when it was unbearable. Without you two, I wouldn’t be here today. Thank to my amazing boyfriend, Conner Smith, and his family. My love for you is infinite. Thanks to Sarah Locklair and all the Locklair’s, you always made me smile. Thank you to Caitlyn and the Riester’s, my second family, and my mother’s amazing friends for traveling miles from Indiana many times to see me. Thank you to my friends and family that made the effort to see me. Thank you to Veronica Robertson, Flow Town Yoga, and all the yogis for helping me find my way in my new life. I thank God for blessing my life and seeing me through my storms. I love you all.”
Ivana Reay-Jones Photography