PLEASANT HILL, OR
-- Five days.
Five days to wrap up life, work, everything.
Pleasant Hill music teacher Kris Violette had been having some issues with her gull bladder. She went to have an ultrasound done and the doctors found a mass on her left kidney. Turns out it was a rare growth – but it wasn’t the problem. Doctors diagnosed Kris with leukemia – and told her she had five days to wrap up everything before being admitted to the hospital.
Not exactly the type to let go of things easily, Kris has had to adjust to accept help. It was late 2016 when she was diagnosed. She’s been through aggressive chemotherapy, graph vs host disease, remission, and the return of her cancer. Even through all this, she’s still getting in trouble with her family for mopping the floor on her hands and knees with wipes.
“She’s a little bit of a control freak,” Jackie Fabrick, Kris’s sister said. “She’s stubborn too. But I think that those two things are an asset when you are fighting cancer. You gotta be willing to fight.”
A music teacher in Pleasant Hill School District, it wasn’t exactly easy for Kris to let go of her students - let alone her children, her husband and her family. Which was exactly what Kris had to do before her first long hospital visit.
“I was in disbelief for a couple months,” Kris said. “I didn’t really understand what was happening, when I was diagnosed I thought it was something that was just going to get fixed. And then the reality hit that this was serious. It was Thanksgiving 2016 when I talked to my students and I was very open about it. I think it was after the first or second hospitalization where I thought this was serious. Coming to terms with end of life, having to wrap everything up and getting a will.”
Being open about cancer is strikingly powerful for Kris. She’s not ashamed of what’s happened to her and she wants other people to feel the same way.
“A lot of people don’t like to talk about their cancer. You know what, it’s the scariest part of your life. But I find it’s very healing to talk about it. I joke about it, say I forgot something – oh you know what, I have cancer. Serious chemo-brain. Other people are very shy and hide it. They’re embarrassed to talk about it. It’s nothing that they’ve done. It’s not a lifestyle. It’s a mutation in your body.”
Even moments in Kris life where she lost her long hair, moments she still gets choked about while talking about it, are moments representative of her strength in dealing with adversity.
“It’s okay, I can’t cry. I don’t produce tears anymore,” Kris said jokingly when talking about her hair. “I tried everything, wigs, scarves – everything. And then I was just like, I have leukemia. I’m bald. It’s okay.”
To Kris, it just became another part of life that she lost control of. It was out of her hands. Instead of fighting it, she used it to empower her battle.
It’s okay to be sick.
Kris is still fighting cancer today. Her battle has been tough.. She is undergoing another round of chemotherapy. But one of the hardest aspects of this fight, has been seeing what has happened to the music program she was heavily involved with at Pleasant Hills School District.
“I love my job and I love my students, it was hard when I had to quit - the program died. At the high school, I had 60 kids, and it went down to 8. I thought I was at the top of my career.”
Kris was supposed to return to school working full-time in January, but that wasn’t going to be possible with how sick she has been. She has been working part-time. Pleasant Hills is also well known for its huge jazz festival, which brings over 90 schools into the area to perform. Kris was in charge of the event, a huge responsibility she has since had to hand off.
Every turn of Kris journey has included a moment where she has had to let go of a lot of opportunities she has worked for. But her ability to keep fighting and accept help from others in spite of how foreign a feeling that was for her, has allowed her to show others to not be ashamed of being sick, something they have no control over.
“I wouldn’t change this experience. It’s been a horrible, horrible experience. But it makes you grow.”