I was asked to be a beta tester on a new Cancer Support site (I will tell you about it more later) and to share my story. Here is the little article I wrote about my experience with diagnosis.
And Your World Stops - Cancer. ME?
Spring Break 2009. Life was normal. Our old normal anyways. I am not sure I will ever forget that week. My husband and I took our four sons to a hockey tournament our oldest was playing in. My sister, her sons, my mother, our two dogs all crammed into a couple of hotel rooms. Silliness, jokes, long walks on a beach between games.
When the tournament was over we returned to my sister’s home, over tired and with lots of laundry, we were surprised by the unexpected visit of my dad. He took my sister and I out for supper, alone. The first time in the entire 15 years I had been married that I was alone with my sister and my father. We ate and laughed and shared crazy stories about our sons, my father’s beloved grandchildren. As we drove away from the restaurant my dad pulled over, and with tears in his eyes told us he had been diagnosed with terminal colon cancer in his liver. 9 months. N-I-N-E months.
We hugged, we sobbed. We questioned. We recoiled in horror. We had to tell our husbands, our children. My dad, my precious, young father with CANCER? I could not, I cannot imagine life without him.
That was a Friday, and the next Wednesday I dragged my emotional, exhausted self into the hospital for the final stage of kidney donation testing. Many months before I had begun the process to donate my kidney to my cousin. I explained the situation to the surgeons, social workers and nurses sent to examine me. I told them about my dad and his cancer. I said I didnt know if I could still proceed with the donation process, but I did want to finish the testing. They agreed to proceed and I had a CT Scan and a Nuclear Renalgram the next day.
My family and I left my sister’s home exactly one week after hearing about my father’s cancer. Its a long drive with 4 kids, over six hours and there was so much to process, so many tears to shed. The next day my beloved grandmother, my support, my friend, the rock of my world, died.
In one week I had heard I would be probably losing my father within the year, and lost the woman who had been my biggest support and cheer leader. I shattered. Sobbing, I held my husband and said I could handle no more. No more. My world was falling apart.
I returned to my sister’s home alone, leaving my 4 sons with my husband. We were responsible for planning my grandmother’s funeral and the executors of her will. There were 10,000 details to plan. Pictures for the video, music to be selected, family to call, eulogies to write. It was overwhelming and sad. Clinging to each other, my sister and I relied on each other in a way only sisters can.
Donating my kidney was far from my mind in the midst of this trauma and loss. Grief and fear were consuming my thoughts. Thursday morning, as my sister and I drove to the lawyer’s office my surgeon called and left a message on my cell phone. I listed to the voice mail as we pulled into the parking lot. It was urgent, he needed to speak with me immediately. I returned his call.
My sister frantically called our mother as she listened to my half of the phone call. Tumor in my kidney. Cancer. Come into the hospital as soon as possible.
I slid into shock. There I sat in the lawyer’s office signing documents for the death of my grandmother. My dad was dying and I had cancer. CANCER. Me? Only a week before that same surgeon had said I was in “ideal health” and a “perfect donor”.
Between signing papers as the lawyer ran out of the room to make photocopies I called my husband. I called my dad. I called a friend. Unemotional, calm, and totally in shock.
My husband left work, grabbed our sons from school and made the 6 hour drive in 5. I really could not even talk about it, and I certainly could not process it.
8 am Friday morning my husband and I entered the hospital doors. We ran into the surgeon in the elevator. You know its not good when they don’t make eye contact and although agknowledging us, he never once smiled. My palms dripped with sweat as I clung to my husband’s hand.
I sat in that office chair, where I had sat only a week before as the “Healthy Donor”. I sat there as the patient. The patient with cancer. My CT image on the screen over his shoulder he explained that the tests had discovered a tumor on my left kidney. A small tumor, but cancer none the less.
“Renal Cell Carcinoma”. I am not sure I had ever heard those words before, but they became ingrained in my mind at that moment. I don’t remember much except that the doctor kept saying he was sorry. Sorry it was there, sorry I was dealing with this, so, so sorry.
There are no real treatment options for RCC other than surgery, or so I was told. We left that office with the knowledge that I would be shortly scheduled for surgery.
The next day I buried my grandma. The next day I read her eulogy. The next day I told my extended family I too had cancer. Too raw to really feel, I ached to connect with this act of saying goodbye to a woman I would miss every day the rest of my life, well at the same time fearing for my own death with every breath.
There is no greater horror I have experienced as a parent than I did the day I sat my sons down to tell them that I too had cancer. The same 14 year old who had just been told his grandfather was seriously ill, the same 13 year old who was scared beyond belief at the changes happening around him, the same 11 year old who had held his dying great grandmother’s hand to tell her he loved her, and my precious 8 year old who wiped my tears as his own fell into his lap. My sons, eyes filled with fear, being told that their mother had cancer too.
We made it sound like it was slightly more serious than your common cold. “Mommy will be fine”. “Mommy will be fine”. “Mommy WILL be fine”. But kids know what cancer means. The Terry Fox run they participate in every year has taught them enough. People with cancer are sick. People with cancer die. And truly a part of me died that day along with their innocence that parents live forever and really bad things never happen to us.
My tumor came out on May 11. Stage 1 Grade 2 RCC. I am extremely lucky. An asymptomatic cancer was in me, a 35 year old woman with absolutely no risk factors. I would have never, ever, ever known until it was too late except for the fact I decided to try to donate my kidney. That act to safe another, saved my own life.
Life has gone on. One week after getting home from the hospital we very unexpectedly added two baby girls to our family, then aged 2 months and 12 months. 6 kids have forced me to keep on, to heal, to move forward and to leave the kidney cancer behind me.
My dad responded beyond our wildest dreams to the chemo offerred to him. His doctor suddenly is talking in years versus months.
I have a 90% chance of being alive in 5 years, maybe more if you factor in my age and health. And still, late at night, or with every new ache I wonder. Growing old is no longer my right, I realize, but hopefully, God willing, it will be my privilege.
Thanks for reading,