81: Kylie’s Scar

81: Kylie’s Scar

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Just Us Girls

Kylie’s Scar

Because nobody goes through life without a scar.

~Carol Burnett

“Oh my gosh, Kylie, I — I don’t know what to say. I mean… open-heart surgery? You’re barely twenty-three!” I said.

I looked at Sam for help. She too was stunned by the news.

“Are you sure you’ve talked through all the options with your doctor?” Sam asked.

“Yeah, I’m sure,” Kylie said. “The first surgery attempt only made the hole bigger. We’ve gone through all the options. There’s no guarantee, of course, and I’ll have a scar, but I decided this is the only way to fix the problem for good. So for the rest of my life I don’t have to worry about there being a hole in my heart, you know?”

At that moment I felt like I was the one with a hole in my heart. Open-heart surgery? Isn’t that for older people who need to bypass clogged arteries? Certainly not for young, fit, healthy, and super active young people like Kylie! My mind reeled with possible bad endings, and it took all I had to fake a smile for Kylie. This was her life, after all, and right now she needed a shoulder to lean on, an ear to listen, and most of all, our unconditional support.… I had to swallow my terror and doubts.

It had been five years since the three of us met during our first year at the Naval Academy. We bonded in an unforgiving, predominantly male environment. Together we found outlets from the stress and discipline — we laughed, ran, wrote countless e-mails and messages, made crafts, and enjoyed endless adventures around town and even overseas.

We all chose to major in oceanography, and our friendship blossomed in the rocky soil of life at the Academy. We went to class together alongside our fellow uniformed future Naval and Marine Corps officers. Kylie sat in the front row, I took the middle, and Sam preferred the back. Sitting together was not an option. We had to separate ourselves or we’d cause a ruckus. We found that the more boring the teacher and the more tedious the subject, the closer we grew. We composed witty notes and crafted intricate doodles — and sent them soaring through the air from one end of the classroom to the other. Hijinks aside, we studied hard, helped each other, and earned good grades.

After four hard years, we graduated and left Annapolis. Sam went to The Basic School for Marine officers in Virginia; Kylie went to Rhode Island to earn her master’s degree; and I went to San Diego to serve aboard a ship. We always found time to visit each other, and every time we did we were still the same giggly, mischievous girls we were in college.

Two months before Kylie told us the news, the three of us competed in a Half Ironman triathlon relay. Kylie swam 1.2 miles, Sam cycled 56 miles, and I ran 13.1 miles. Kylie knew then that she needed surgery, but true to her character, she waited until after the race to break the news. She always puts others before herself.

The weekend before Kylie’s surgery, we kept her mind off the topic by going for runs, bundled up against the harsh wintry wind, telling stories and laughing the whole way. We visited art stores in Cambridge and sipped hot buttered rum at an Irish tavern in Harvard Square, something Kylie rarely did. She showed me the city she’d come to know through her visits to see her boyfriend, who was getting his master’s at MIT. After a long weekend of pure, uninterrupted girl time, she saw me off at Central Station. When I said goodbye, I gripped my red roller bag as tightly as I could, blew her a kiss, and tried not to cry. I had to be strong for Kylie. It wasn’t until the train was out of sight that my tears came falling down.

Before the surgery, Kylie told me that her biggest fear was that she’d be bedridden for a month afterward. Then it would be another month before she’d be allowed to do any sort of physical activity. I imagine she had deeper fears, but her focused concern over the recovery period reflected her character — she was such a positive thinker and getting back on her feet was already at the forefront of her mind.

She went under the knife the next day at seven in the morning Boston time, four in the morning my time. The surgery lasted five long hours. Kylie’s mother sent updates whenever she could. I couldn’t focus at work. I prayed for Kylie and her family. I pleaded with God to pull her through the surgery. I kept thinking that Kylie was far too strong, far too sweet, and far too giving to deserve this!

After the surgery, Kylie slept for ten hours. When she finally awoke, her mom sent me a text message saying that she was stable and well. My heart felt ten pounds lighter and surged with joy and relief that my best friend was going to be okay!

For three months after the surgery, she attended physical therapy. Day by day, Kylie gathered her strength. A few days later, we spoke on the phone for ten minutes — she didn’t have the strength to stay awake any longer. I’d never seen Kylie too tired for anything! She was the most energetic girl in the world. But her body needed time to recover, and she was coming along well — that’s all that mattered. Kylie was the type to sneak in a few pushups and sit-ups in the hospital room, and I have no doubt that she did. Within two and a half months, Kylie was back on the treadmill, working her way back toward her natural, super-active self. I was so proud. I am so proud.

Kylie motivates me to be the best version of myself, to never give up, and to be brave above all else. She is the most inspiring person I know. I am truly blessed to have her in my life.

This past April I got married, and Kylie and Sam served as bridesmaids in the wedding. They and the other four bridesmaids wore handmade flowered scarves with their strapless pink and orange dresses. Kylie’s scar was nowhere to be seen, and I had the very best looking, and certainly unique, bridal party of anyone I know!

~Katie Cash

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