Kris Belcher lives her life by feel.
The mother of two uses feel to find the phone when it rings. She feels for spills on the kitchen counter to wipe up. She feels for people who, like her, suffer through harrowing experiences.
Blinded five years ago when cancer completely took her sight, Belcher performs all her daily tasks in the dark.
"Everything is by feel," she said. "So I wash my hands a lot."
It's also by feel that she's gotten through her most difficult times. Belcher had to have multiple surgeries in 2004 to remove cancers from her right eye and ocular nerve, the result of radiation treatments when she was an infant. Her younger son, Benjamin, was just 1 at the time, a happy, cuddly baby. Belcher said touching his smiling mouth gave her hope during a very dark, sick time of her life.
"His smile helped me a lot when I lost my vision," she said. "It was so hard not to see him, but … I could feel his smile and it really helped my heart."
The 38-year-old returned Mormon missionary said she's also learned to trust in a power that is unseen to even people with perfect eyesight. She's relied on faith — her belief in a loving God who has a plan.
"Part of the mortal experience is to have trials to stretch us and prove us and help us become more like Christ," she said.
That belief gives her hope and purpose on difficult days.
"It's a hard thing to be blind. I have days where I'm frustrated and wish that I didn't have to be blind — wish that I didn't have to go through life in the dark," she said. "(But) it's obviously a blessing that my life could be preserved and a blessing that I could be able to testify of how Christ has helped me through it."
At 7 months old, Belcher was diagnosed with bilateral retinoblastoma — multiple tumors growing on the retinas of both her eyes. She underwent radiation for months and the cancer was eventually eliminated.
She retained some vision in both her eyes. Eventually, though, she lost sight in her left eye and it was removed. The more recent bout of cancer resulted in the removal of her right.
Over the course of her life she's had many surgeries, many complications and significant pain. She was comforted by the efforts her family and her ward made in her behalf, especially since she had yet to learn skills such as reading braille and using screen-reading software on her computer.
Her visiting teachers came every week to clean her house, and there was a steady stream of food.
But even surrounded by so many loving individuals, she still felt alone.
"It was a very lonely experience because nobody knew what I was feeling but me," she said. "I got so I was living on the defense, waiting for the next bomb to drop."
Since much of her personal struggle is obvious to others — she wears glasses to soften the look of her prosthetic eyes and walks with a cane — there are aspects of her story that she'd like to keep to herself, she said. But she feels compelled to share her personal tragedies in hopes of helping others.
"I'd like to have some kind of barrier where people don't need to know my suffering," she said. "But I really feel that one of the reasons I've been preserved to live is to testify of Christ. So if I'm going to do that, and do what I feel prompted to do, I have to be willing to open myself up."Comment on this story
Belcher has spoken at firesides, BYU's Women's Conference and Deseret Book's Time Out For Women. She recently wrote a book, "Hard Times and Holy Places," about her experience. She said she makes these efforts to tell even the difficult parts of her story because people who are grieving often communicate through shared sorrow.
Belcher said she knows that few people who hear her story will have undergone the same struggles as she has, but she knows grief is a universal struggle and that everyone can "find healing when there is no cure."