We got through this

When dad first got sick and we didn’t know why, my sister and I were texting. We said if it was cancer, we would not know what to do with ourselves.

Turned out, it was cancer.

We had to face it head on at the hospital that night in February, waiting for him to get out of the 8-hour surgery. When it was done, we went to his room, saw his skin so yellow from jaundice, saw the indescribable relief wash over him when we told him the tumor was out of his body.

We smiled at him through tears, then left the room and my sister collapsed. I had a panic attack on the drive home, screaming and slamming my steering wheel. Why the fuck did this have to happen to my dad, the best person I know? The kindest, most thoughtful person, who is capable of making any room full of people feel warm and every person feel loved?

The months after the disease had a name were dark. I don’t remember a lot of it. The terror of the unknown coated every layer of my life.

Now, it’s over a year since the night of the surgery. Dad is done with intense rounds of chemo and radiation, done to ensure there were no traces of cancer left after the surgery. Every scan has been clear since then. I feel beyond lucky and grateful.

My sister and I didn’t think we would get through it that day last year when we were both terrified and texting each other. But here we are in April 2019. We are bruised, but we are OK.

Our lives are permanently changed by this, the scariest thing I have faced in my life so far. There is still fear. But mostly there is love. So much love for my dad and my mom. So much love for my family, both genetic and chosen.

We got through this thanks to my dad’s unbelievable optimism. We got through this thanks to our incredible partners, who showed up for us every single step of the way, who walked into the hospital that night in February and sat there with us on the scariest day. We got through this thanks to our endlessly supportive group of friends and family who checked up on us constantly and made sure we knew they had our backs. I got through this thanks to my incredible therapist, who made sure I knew that I was getting stronger and coping better every time she saw me.

We didn’t think we’d get through this. But we did.


The Tea Set

Veronica Misbrener was born in 1942 in Németkér, Hungary while her father John Brown was away at the war. Her two older siblings were born before then, so they knew a very different version of him.

“My dad was always a gruff man. My sisters said when they were younger, they used to have so much fun with him,” Veronica said.

He wore his hair long, and even let his daughters braid it.

“He was not like that to me,” Veronica said.

One of the few expressions of love from her father came in the form of a little white tea set.

After the war ended in June 1946, Russian people came to occupy their town of Németkér to claim the spoils of war. They gave Veronica’s family’s home to Romanian people from the surrounding area who lost their own homes to the war. Veronica’s family was shipped in the first transport from their hometown to Hochausen, Germany.

“They took everything. We could only take what we could carry,” Veronica said. “We had a vineyard, we had horses, we had cows, pigs, you know.”

She loved her hometown — it had a theater, which was unusual for that region, and a lake where residents could swim.

In Germany, they lived in the upstairs level of a farmhouse. It had two rooms: One served as a bedroom for all four kids and two parents, and the other, a very small kitchen.

Her dad began working in Würzburg, Germany. The city was in ruins, and his job was to help clean it up.

One day while sifting through rubble, he found a shockingly intact white tea set. He brought it home and gave it to his young daughter.

“I was so happy, because I never really had many toys,” Veronica said. She cherished this small token, and thought it was beautiful.

By this time, the family wanted to immigrate to America–they saw it as the land of opportunity. Her dad’s uncle lived there, and he offered to sponsor their boat ride to New York.

So her family began packing all their most valuable items.

Except one.

For reasons Veronica doesn’t understand to this day, her mother refused to allow her to bring her precious tea set.

“She had no room, she said. No room for that little tea set,” Veronica said.
“She could’ve put it in between bedding, or anything.”

So Veronica was forced to give her most prized possession to a friend in the neighborhood named Irmgard Konig.

“I was just so upset,” Veronica said. She hated giving up her most beloved gift.

They left without the set, traveled to New York by boat then Alliance, Ohio by train.

Years later, in 2005, she and her sister Matilda went back to their hometown.
They contacted the current resident of their old house, who was the brother of the Romanian occupants. He thought they were interested in buying the house–but he only spoke Hungarian, so Veronica didn’t know that at the time.

“Oh, if I would have known,” Veronica said. “I would’ve somehow made him believe that this is our house. This is OUR house! Not your house!”

In 2010, her other sister Mary went to visit an old friend–who happened to be Irmgard’s cousin–in their hometown.

Mary’s friend gave her Imgard’s address and phone number to give to Veronica, in case she wanted to get back in touch.

Four years later, Veronica still hasn’t picked up the phone.

“Something in the back of my head will not let me do that,” Veronica said. “And I always say, I should do this, I should do this.”

So what’s holding her back?

“I think the tea set,” Veronica said.

If she doesn’t know for certain that the tea set is not in Irmgard’s possession, the tea set can still exist in her mind.

“I wonder if she still has that tea set.”

That Time I Fainted at The Fillmore

Miley Cyrus & Her Dead Petz were four songs into their set at The Fillmore in Detroit when my revelry was interrupted by a thought:

What would happen to me if a gunman walked in right now?

The terrorist attacks at a concert venue in Paris had just happened. I had tried to prepare myself for this before the concert, knowing the thought might come up.

I shook my head, as if the physical act would dispel the thought burrowed in my brain.

What if he was down there? 

Focus, Kelsey, I told myself. I trained my eyes on Miley, dressed in a silver moon costume at the front of the stage.

What if he was…back there?

I turned around and pictured a man with a gun, standing behind my balcony section. My eyes darted around for an exit. There wasn’t one.


The room started closing in on me, and my chest tightened. My heart started beating in my ears. I tried taking deep breaths, but the sensation that I was in danger was all too real in my head. I looked at Nick, standing next to me and oblivious of my mental barrage, and tried to tell him I had to go to the bathroom, but he couldn’t hear me over the loud music. I rushed out into the hallway with a goal: Get to the bathroom, splash cold water on my face and sit down.

There were five people in line for the tiny bathroom. I couldn’t get in.

The next time I opened my eyes, I saw blood red carpet and a few pairs of feet. I felt so calm, I thought I was in bed at home. But then I realized: I was in Michigan.

I looked down at my phone and saw a text from Nick.

“What’s going on?”

“Cheap” Damn you, autocorrect. “Help”

I lost consciousness again, and when I opened my eyes, I saw two faces fading in and out of my vision.

“Am I on psychedelic drugs?” I asked myself.

“Is she on psychedelic drugs?” the EMS man asked Nick at the same time. “Why might she have passed out?”

Nick explained to the man that no, I was not on drugs. I have trouble in crowds, and this situation is not unusual – this past summer, at Bunbury music festival, I felt the same sensation and had to vomit. I thought it was just the combination of heat and dehydration.

The EMS man turned again to me, still woozy on the ground.

“I’m going to ask you some questions to make sure you’re OK.”


“What’s your name?”

“Kelsey Misbrener.”

“How old are you?”

(This always takes a second regardless of my state of consciousness)


“Who’s the president?”

I smiled.

“Barack Obama.”

“Who’s the next president?”

I smiled bigger.

“Hillary Clinton.”

“Oh boy, I’m definitely taking you to the emergency room!” he chided.

He really did want me to go to the emergency room.

I heard Miley’s voice in the background. I looked forward to this concert for months. Miley embraces a raw freedom and sexuality that I deeply admire, and I did not want to have to leave her show early.

“Can I try to stand?” I asked.

“OK,” he said.

Nick and the man helped me up.

“See? I’m fi-”

I opened my eyes again and was staring at the ceiling.

Nick said this was the scariest part – my eyes rolled back and I fainted for 30+ seconds.

“OK, the blood is not making it’s way from your heart to your head. Just lay down and relax,” the EMS man told me.

While I laid on the floor, Nick held my hand and the man asked me some questions about my health. I told him I’ve been a vegetarian for about two years.

He nodded his head, saying the two-year mark was when most people need to start taking supplements if they weren’t already. He said he wishes he could be a vegetarian, but couldn’t give up meat. He joked with me about my Hillary answer again, and we both laughed.

He took me to the first aid room, where Nick got me a Mountain Dew and Cool Ranch Doritos. It was a winning combination, and I began to feel like myself again.

We told the man we really wanted to stay for the rest of the show, and he said he could get us into the disability section so I could have some space, rather than going back to the crowd. We left the first aid room, so grateful to have met such a kind helper on this snowy Saturday in Detroit.

Nick and I sat at a high table, much closer to Miley than we were before. I was still shaking, a bit traumatized and worried that I might faint again. But Nick kept his hand on my back the whole time, calmed me down and brought me at least four bottles of water.

In the past, I might’ve seen a night like that as a waste of money and a waste of time. Instead, that fateful night transformed me and Nick. The trust I already had in him quadrupled, the knowledge that there will always be helpers warmed my heart, and the mind+body connection – where a panic attack shut down my body – showed me I need to take better care of both my mind and my body.





Just Like Me/Lines

“It’s ok

It’s ok

It’s ok”

The straight lines across her tan stomach betrayed her.

“Oh my god

Oh my god

Oh my GOD”

Eyesight blurred, heart thumped a lullaby, trying to soothe my spiraling mind like a cat’s purr. No luck.


It had been that way. For a long time. For all time, maybe. And what had I done to help?

I was the rabble-rouser. I broke rules, got in trouble. She saved face.

I sat in the crispy August grass, head in hands. No longer cool, collected.

Losing my shit on a beach towel.

The sight blinded me more than the midday sun. But when my eyes adjusted, I saw the truth:

A human, with painful emotions and racing thoughts.

A human, just like me.

2014: My Happy Year

I’ve been looking back at pictures and realized this year has been truly awesome.

Here’s why:

1. Lex1

We got a new family member: Lex!


I think it was a highlight of Louis’s year too.



We got to see Arcade Fire close-up on their Reflektor Tour. Much confetti and much dance.

3. DC3

We went to D.C. with Jordan and Nathan on an unseasonably warm weekend in March. Saw so many cool landmarks and museums, and stumbled upon D.C.’s version of the Zephyr (The Big Hunt).

4. Tinariwen4

I bought tickets on a whim to see a band I had never heard of on my birthday. Tinariwen put on an incredible show full of drumming, beautiful garments and dancing. The group was part of a nomadic tribe who made makeshift instruments out of anything they could find in the desert. They’ve since won a Grammy and continue to make music about the desert and freedom.

5. Pittsburgh+Zoo5

We took a trip to Pittsburgh to see the David Mayfield Parade, and made some other fun stops along the way. We got to the Pittsburgh Zoo right when it opened, so all the animals were out frolicking and showing us their smiles.

6. Graduation6

I got to celebrate some of my dear friends graduating from college at the Kent State Hotel.

7. Nickinhiselement7

I witnessed Nick in his element at Kids Country and also hung out with some really awesome kids.

8. WineandFriends8.1

I drank some wine with great friends…


And some more wine.

9. Rent9

We saw a high school production of my favorite musical “Rent.” Those kids blew me away with their talent. I’ve seen the production with original cast members, and this adaptation was almost as good.



My cousin Colin came to town for July 4 with his new girlfriend. And now they’re engaged!

11. Bunbury11

We went to Bunbury music festival and saw some incredible acts. My favorite was Kishi Bashi, whose loop-pedal violin mastery brought me to tears.


And got to share the jam with these two awesome people.

12. JT12

Went with my family to see one of our favorite musicians, James Taylor, at Blossom. He brought the fire…and then the rain came.



We went to Maine with Nick’s family and climbed mountains, saw whales and ate delicious seafood.

14. Cbus14

We went to Columbus to visit our friend Amanda and support FemmeFest – a music festival where all proceeds went to victims of sexual assault. Saintseneca headlined the show and played all our favorites.

Bring on 2015!





The Worst “Yoga” Class Ever

People come to yoga for many reasons.

Some, to rehabilitate their bodies from injury.

Others, to get some exercise.

And for me, yoga is my quiet time to tune in to myself and get centered.

That’s why this morning’s yoga class was hurtful in so many ways.

When my friend and I heard there was to be a donation-based class benefiting the Battered Women’s Shelter, we couldn’t wait to go. We got up early Saturday and drove to the location.

“You’re going to sweat today,” the instructor said.

As soon as we started doing the “running man” workout, I realized we wouldn’t be doing any yoga today.

She put us through a rigorous one-hour boot camp, which wasn’t a problem, except that throughout the class, she would yell at anyone for modifying an exercise or for going into child’s pose.

“DON’T DROP TO YOUR KNEES. KEEP YOUR HIPS DOWN.” She walked through the rows of victims yanking up their hips, and I hoped for her sake she did not touch any part of my body.

Then it happened. We were doing an ab workout and she said, “Look down. Do you like what you see? Is there a meatloaf down there? So hold the pose.”

My jaw dropped in disbelief that a supposed practitioner of yoga would use such harmful body-shaming to try and “motivate” a class of people who came to support battered women.

When the class ended, we gave our donations and went straight to Wally Waffles.

We did not regret a single bite.

Whale Watching and Puke Dodging on the Atlantic

7:15 a.m.

We are first in line for the whale watch. Fog is thick throughout the Gulf of Maine. We can’t see past the lobster boats 100 yards off the dock. Will we be able to see whales through this fog?

Excitement builds as people begin to line up behind us. I’m sure glad I dressed so smartly with 3 layers of shirts and a coat. It can’t be more than 60 degrees outside.

If you ain't first...

If you ain’t first…

8:30 a.m.

We get first dibs on seats, which means we sit on the exposed top of the boat. The fog has left droplets of ice-cold water on every seat. So I am forced to remove one precious layer to sit on, lest my hindquarters become popsicles. It feels at least 10 degrees colder up here. Realization sets in: I am not wearing nearly enough clothing.

The captain tells us we won’t be seeing puffin today because of the fog, and says if we want to get off and come back another day, we may do that now. I consider his offer silently, and then scold myself.

“Self, you are supposed to be an adventurer today. Adventurers have to go through some uncomfortable situations in order to reach their goals.”

And so I remained in my icy throne.

Shivering Adventurers

Shivering Adventurers

8:45 a.m.

The boat has left the dock. Do they sell blankets on board? I picture my own blanket sitting in our motel room, mocking me. Damn you, blanket. I wish I had you right now.

“Adventurers don’t need blankets,” I remind myself. “You are Ishmael, on the hunt for Moby. You will do what it takes to find your whale. Look around. All of these other adventurers are going through the same cold you are. Buck up.”

9:00 a.m.

I spot a group of porpoise to my left. Our naturalist leader asks us to scream out when we see any wildlife. “PORPOISE!” I scream, my mouth muffled by my zipped jacket.

Only Nick, sitting next to me, hears me through the whipping wind, so we share the porpoise moment ourselves.

9:15 a.m. 

I wonder if I could pay someone for a blanket. The inside cabin below is starting to sound inviting.

“What kind of adventurer are you?” My brain chides. “You will not give up. You will persevere.”

9:20 a.m.

Mutiny begins.

“Where’d you get that pen?” Nick asks me. “I had one just like it that I lost.”

“My dad.” I reply, but in truth, I cannot quite recall where I got it. The wind is too strong for him to hear my confession. I continue to write.

9:30 a.m.

I notice myself squinting.

Could it be?

Yes! The sun has showed her beautiful face to the Gulf of Maine and the frozen passengers of the Whales & Puffins tour boat.

I feel it seeping into my windblown, numb skin. It makes the Atlantic Ocean glitter, as if to tell me, “Your hope will keep me strong.”

Meanwhile, the whales. What are they doing now?

Are they playing a hand of blackjack underneath the boat?

It’s fitting to look for Humpback Whales on Hump Day.


9:45 a.m.

The guide starts talking loudly, but I can’t hear her because my hood is covering my ears.

“Er purrfins,” Nick says through his own coat.

I look up and view our first puffin sighting. He’s so far away he looks like a seagull to me.

But there- a closer one floating on the ocean! I can see the white and orange of his beak.

10:00 a.m.


The naturalists hear something, but say they’re stumped on what it was.

The size and shape of the splash lead them to believe it was a Great White Shark.

During Shark Week.


Nick saw the splash, but I didn’t. Still, I was in the presence of a Great White, and that is rad.

10:15 a.m.


The sound of a whale’s blowhole in the distance.

The guide says they’re Fin Whales. 

I am shaking and jumping up and down and smiling so hard my mouth hurts.

Two puffs of blowhole air shoot up straight ahead.

The sound is powerful, and it’s loud, and it’s beautiful.

Two shiny gray backs glide out of the water a stone’s throw from where I’m standing on the deck.

These huge beasts are sharing their slice of water with me. I am very thankful Nick chose the left side of the boat.

The Grand Blowhole

The Grand Blowhole

A Fin Whale breaches the surface

A Fin Whale breaches the surface

10:30 a.m.

A curious baby seal swims up to the side of the boat. I can see his flippers and his belly and his doe eyes as he floats by us, checking us out.

Baby Seal Friend

Baby Seal Friend

11:00 a.m.

Time for a break.

I go down a level to get to the bathroom and the wind nearly slaps me off the ship. I feel a quick burst of “rain” hit my face, then find my way into an alcove and ask a woman, “Do you know where the bathroom is?”

“I don’t know, but I just got puked on,” she says.

Little orange specks dot her white sweater.

And then it dawns on me.

That wasn’t water that hit my face.

My stomach drops and I wipe my face with my sleeves. I wasn’t seasick before, but I am certainly feeling some nausea now.

I use yogic breathing to center myself and acknowledge that worse things have happened, and then make my way to the bathroom, and run back upstairs the other way around.

11:30 a.m.

The tour ends with three Humpback Whales swimming slowly next to our boat. They slap the sea with their tails as they dive down for more food. The guide tells us to “look for the tail” when they are about to dive down. 

One Humpback

One Humpback

Two Humpback

Two Humpback

12:00 p.m.

We sit back down in awe and proceed back to shore. Then we make our way to “Jordan’s” restaurant and eat lots of wild blueberry pancakes and hash browns.