I have to first apologize for not blogging every single day. It's not easy for me to re-live the worst parts of my life on a daily basis and quite honestly, I procrastinate. If there is anyone out there that may look to this blog for hope or distraction or anything positive, I know I have let you down and I am sorry. Someone stepped into my art studio the other day... quite a few people do on a daily basis, and a good plenty of these people are looking for donations of some sort. I have a policy at the studio to only donate to cancer causes and visual arts, to narrow it down because we get so many requests. So, when a cancer cause is brought to me, I often end up talking about my story and my blog site. Anyway, this particular person made one simple little comment to me that made me realize how important blogging on a daily basis really is... it's for that one person that may look to my words for hope... even if it's just a tiny short little paragraph, I must post daily. I agree and my heart sunk deep and I instantly felt like a complete let-down. One of the two BIG THINGS I'm doing in my life that could resonate with someone deeply and I am failing. And for that, I AM TRULY SORRY. I promise to make a better effort to post every day. *Notice I gave myself the "out" stating that I'll make a better effort rather than actually just promising to post daily. Why would I do that?! I'll tell you why... because in all reality, when I log in to this blog site, I am forced to think about cancer. It's as simple as that.
Now on with the medical history; my last post ended with me headed into my first surgery after the resident doctor so bluntly gave my life a sentence of "6 months at best."
I'm not sure exactly at what point it happened, but I have now literally entered a state of shock. My recollection of my experiences for the next 6 months is spotty at best.
I woke up from surgery in a bed surrounded by a team of smiling doctors. Thank God for IV drugs because I absolutely needed it. I felt ok post-op, but it isn’t good when you wake up from surgery staring at a TEAM of doctors staring back at you. But we already knew this was likely, so what now? It can’t be worse, can it?
It can ALWAYS be worse. Remember that so that you make yourself feel better… it really CAN always be worse.
So, they were right. I had kidney cancer. Stage IV. There’s no stage V… stage V is death. I’m almost there. And, here I thought I was healthy for the most part with just something a little off that I was taking care of and monitoring (in my state of denial, or rather HOPE that I was the lucky one who really didn’t have a larger issue, or if I did, it wasn’t too large, just a nuisance). Stage IV… because it metastasized from my kidney to my bone through the bloodstream. There’s a lyric in a song about cancer so bad that it is in the bone… because I knew the song, I automatically connected this scenario as the worst possible place it could go. This lyric made me believe that this was the last stage of cancer and once it’s in the bone, that’s it. Game over.
It’s amazing how our surroundings can affect our well-being and frame of mind.
Sounds like the worse case scenario; but remember, it really could have been worse. It could have gone to my brain, or spine, or liver or any other vital organ. So, ok… I caught a break (pun intended). I think these thoughts as the nurse feeds me red jello and as the doctors introduce themselves as if I may one day remember any of them. Back off people… I’m drugged, I’m in shock, and I’m going to die… and I just found out. I just want to eat this tasty, sweet, red, smooth jello right now while linked up to this wonderful bag of drugs.
It almost felt like I was Dorothy looking at the Tin Man, the Lion and the Scarecrow. Each of them had their own thing to say. One doctor was very kind. I remember him saying, “I’m here to give you hope.” I also remember focusing on just trying to focus on him and make sure the jello went into my mouth. Hope? There’s hope. Where is it? He tells me I have options and I’ll be seeing him soon, but first I must recover from this biopsy and get through another surgery. Another surgery? Another doctor steps in and tells me that I have to give him my kidney. They can take it out tomorrow or wait until I heal from the surgery I am still waking up from my first surgery. A reminder… I’m on an IV drip of some very good drugs at this point. So… I rationalize the way a drugged person would: It’s late January and the Superbowl is coming up soon. It was pushed back to February this year. I’m currently in first place in my confidence pool and was hoping to have a Superbowl party this year. So, I find it perfectly acceptable, while on these amazing drugs, to ask “If you take it out tomorrow, will I be home in time to have my Superbowl party? I’m going to win my Superbowl pool this year and I want to watch the game.” I remember this line because I was so surprised to see and hear everyone laugh at me as if I had said something funny. “I’m not being funny.” I said. One doctor looked at me and tilted his head and responded, “yes, if all goes according to plan, you’ll be home. But, you’ll be resting and recovering.” So I said “ok… take it tomorrow because I don’t want to come back again.” Settles that. I think everyone should be given good drugs when making serious decisions. It really truly helped me. I'm not so sure I wouldn't have just broken down into a fit of tears fueled by fear, like I do NOW when I go for routine scans and hear that I have to have a procedure done.
Shortly after, I remember needing to urinate. They had to get staff to help me to the restroom. On the way back from the restroom, which wasn’t far from my bed, I felt very ill and asked for a pan. They brought a chair. I asked for a pan again… they gave me, ironically, a pink kidney shaped pan slightly larger than the size of my hand. What the hell is that?! Before I could even ask for a BUCKET, I threw up in the pan only to have it all splash right out of that tiny, insulting pan back into my face and down the front of me. My mom started worrying because it was red… she called the nurses all over immediately thinking it was blood coming out. Meanwhile… I’m still drugged and remember telling her that it was ok because it tasted like cherries. Best puke ever! Bonus! Here I was just enjoying the taste of my own puke while my mom was in immediate panic and It was just the jello coming back out, not blood. See? There is always something good in bad experiences.
They took my kidney out. I don’t remember how that went. I do remember something that I don’t discuss often though and it’s something I have no explanation for. I remember during the surgery seeing a light, then closing my eyes and seeing a brighter light. I opened and closed my eyes peacefully quite a few times trying to figure out what was going on, but never did. After surgery, in the hospital, the staff came into my room very early one morning when none of my family was around with a questionnaire for me to fill out and sign. My family was not there and I was still heavily drugged. I don’t remember all the questions, but I do remember them asking me if I remember anything during the surgery. I did explain to them the light experience, but that’s all. I don’t know if something happened that they didn’t tell us about or if it was standard procedure. I didn’t care. I was still in shock and now in recovery after my second surgery… before another series of surgeries to the hip/leg to come.
In retrospect… I do believe that something happened during that surgery. It was the first time I felt that “peace” feeling during a very confusing “light” experience. I cannot explain this one.
My family took me home. I don’t remember when my dad came out, but he was there. I had family visiting me a few at a time, brothers, aunts and uncles, cousins, friends… I remember only bits and pieces. I remember getting a whole living room full of flowers and thinking how well loved I was that so many people sent me something, little symbols of their love and care. And then I spiraled into the artist way of thinking… how symbolic of life that they would send flowers that DIE shortly after being sent. And I grew to resent them as much as I adored their beauty, scents and symbolism. I received a few checks to help with finances; if you don't know, cancer is VERY expensive, MONUMENTALLY expensive... if you don't have a pile of money sitting around somewhere, I highly recommend not getting it. One person sent me a gorgeous antique cross and a group of church friends made a prayer shawl for me. These two items I most adored and still do today. My parents went out and purchased a recliner for me to recover in since I was not able to lay flat in a bed. They removed my left kidney laparoscopically, thankfully, given the archaic alternative of cutting the torso almost in half to remove it! OMG, I was blessed there! Another domino saved for the moment!
I remember Sally (my dog-ter: dog-daughter) knew not to jump up onto my lap. She would sleep in bed and then in the morning would rub up against my chair to wake me and pet her to let me know she was there supporting me. I honestly believe she knew I was sick and she knew I needed her. She would lay by my chair or at my feet, but would never climb up onto me, which was unusual because she was a great hugger! So smart. I really miss her.
I remember my parents also buying a small table to work on… we didn’t have a dining table or kitchen table. We always just ate in the living room or on the back patio. So, they bought us a table… we needed it with all the guests and for them to do research. I was still recovering as they were navigating treatment options, research and medical bills. I was so blessed to not have to deal with that through this whole ordeal.
I also remember one friend who sat by my side as I had to use the toilet- for my comfort in her discomfort- I vaguely remember this, but I remember her willingness to be there for me and help me in any way I needed. Thank you, publicly unnamed friend (you know who you are)... I know that was probably the worst job to have.
I remember another friend who flew down to help while she was pregnant… to be with me… laundry, dishes, cooking… whatever. Just to be there for me. Thank you, publicly unnamed friend (you know how you are)... I know what a challenge you must have gone through leaving your family at home to help me.
I remember my mom and my brother cooking meals and doing all my chores… making me smoothies with my supplements in them so I could build my immune system back up. I can't even thank my family enough! The Hell that they've all been through with me and around me I'm sure was at a faster pace and I'm surprised they don't all have anxiety from it all.
I remember celebrating my mom’s birthday at a restaurant on the beach the day before my next surgery- the big hip surgery. I’m glad we got to celebrate HER before I went in for that next series of nightmares.
I remember being on crutches from the time we found out about the crack in the bone to... well... for a very long time after the hip/leg prosthetic was installed. My robot, superhero parts. We'll get to that in another post. For today, just remember to count your blessings, breathe in hope and happiness, and remember to be grateful because it really can actually be much worse.