Cancer, Coronavirus, and Widowhood.
On May 8th, 2020, I saw a Facebook post on Kerry Phillip’s private Young, Widowed, and Dating Support Group featuring my friend Cristy. She was awesome. It was a great interview.
Suddenly, a memory spell came on. I have vague memories during my initial recovery period.
On March 24th, 2020, I’d undergone a major surgical procedure to have an organ removed.
As I watched Cristy’s interview, this came up in my head.
“Did Kerry Phillips ever call me?” “Was I supposed to answer questions?” “When did this happen?” “Was I ridiculous?” “Did this happen at all?”
And then I thought…
“…Holy shit! Maybe it did happen. Did I apologize? Did I sound like an asshole? Was I inebriated from the medication? I must have been on the meds, I barely remember.”
I was heavily medicated for about two weeks after my surgery. My abdomen was bloated and very distended from the operation. I could barely move or breathe from all the gas pumped into the body for the laparoscopy. I believe oxygen deprivation affected my brain. (Ooops.)
So, I’ve been a widow now for four years (as of 9/10/2015). My husband’s death was sudden. He put our son on his school bus and left to go to work that morning. He never made it home. His body was found near my home, 1.5 days later. Then the police came, and life, as I knew it, came to a screeching halt.
I have been through the mill since. I have relocated three times; I am still adjusting to single motherhood, I’ve made new friends, and said goodbye to old ones. I have been sifting through the muck and mire of emotions, thought patterns, making sure my son isn’t going insane in the process. You get the picture.
In April of 2020, My doctor told me I had renal cancer. My right kidney had to come out.
…I hit the brick wall.
I’ve seen that brick wall before. I hit it the first time when my husband died—except that it took several weeks to realize that I’d hit that wall. Strange, but true.
My second collision with this wall had different effects on my life. You can only imagine the endless thoughts that went through my head. My whole self and the wall collided the day I walked out of the doctor’s office with my boyfriend. We’ve been dating for over a year. I was already undergoing the guilt associated with falling in love again. Not only is my boyfriend in love with a widow who is raising her dead husband’s autistic child, but he also just heard I have cancer. He even saw it, like I did, on screen. There was my CT scan of the abdomen, showing the mass on my right kidney with its own vascular system. It had all the signs of cancer.
“You won’t need chemo. You’ll be cured after the surgery,” said the doctor.
…and there I was again, splattered all over the brick wall. I just didn’t feel the impact this time, due to being completely numb. I hit the wall because of my own mortality.
The singular thought ruminating in my head was, “Holy Sh*t!” As time went on and several doctor’s opinions later, I realized that I wasn’t dying just yet and that I still had a chance to make changes to my lifestyle. I was blessed to have been given full warning of the asymptomatic silent killer that had taken years to grow in my body. My tumor was slightly larger than a golf ball. Despite the huge mass, my kidneys were functioning normally.
There was no way to save the organ (I tried to keep it).
The surgery was going to save my life. The operation was, in essence, my second chance at life. For this, I am blessed.
The weeks I spent preparing for the surgery were riddled with life-altering realizations:
- I have been able to provide a comfortable home for myself and my son since my husband died. For this, I am blessed.
- I have been able to fall in love again. I have a boyfriend who held my hand as I got this news from the doctor. I found somebody in this world who tried to keep his tears back as my bad news struck him. He cares about me and my well-being. For this, I am blessed.
- I have been able to settle debts and figure out how to support myself and my son. For this, I am blessed.
- I have met some fantastic people who can relate to my plight—young, not 80 years old, with kids, and widowed. I am blessed for this.
- I have evolved into the person I actually love to see every day in the mirror. I don’t miss that other woman (the one I was before my husband died). I became a more unapologetically myself since he died, and for that, I too am blessed.
I was glad for those positive realizations, for I had far too many negative ones.
My surgery was deemed essential by the doctor when the coronavirus restrictions began. I would call and check with the doctor’s office, and sometimes they would phone me to make sure I took healthy provisions before undergoing the procedure. No visitors were allowed in the hospital as I was going to spend the night. I would not get discharged until I could urinate on my own.
Having your kidney removed is a big deal. People who donate their organs must be educated and aware of what they are doing. Doing this will have life-altering effects on the body.
“Hitting the brick wall” might be any significant traumatic event.
When I hit the brick wall of my husband’s death, I came apart and came back together again, except I came back together distinctly different. My body underwent a molecular restructuring. What was once a brain cell turned into a femur bone cell. What was once a bicep muscle cell turned into a brain cell. Every cell in my body was reassigned to a new function.
To explain this analogy further, for any of you who watch movies, picture the T1000 killer from (Arnold Schwarzenegger’s) Terminator 2. Canons were blasted at the T1000, making the blob come apart. Then the movie would show the splattered blobs travel to the central mass and merge back together. It was indestructible. I had to put myself back together again and go on with my life after my husband died.
It took a cancer diagnosis and hitting that brick wall again to notice the changes I had gone through from that first collision. I refer to the positive emotional and spiritual changes that occurred from the first blast, like saying goodbye to self-judgments and freeing myself from toxic situations.
However, this time, I had lost a piece of myself when I hit the brick wall again. The T1000 had a malignant growth, and extraction was necessary for T1000’s survival. I was no longer indestructible. If I had not discovered the tumor, it would have killed me.
Now I am in the process of figuring out where my body’s at cellularly. Not only am I noticing the subtle changes, but I’m also aware of what’s missing.
The other looming thought that plagued my mind during this experience was, “My autistic nonverbal son may very well be placed in a home if I were to die right now.”
Speaking of my son, I have to look at the bigger picture. I am still alive.
My parents and my boyfriend came to my home when I had the surgery back in late March to take care of me. Today, I remember everything clearly up until the time I was wheeled into the operating room. As soon as I closed my eyes was as soon as I awoke as I got wheeled into the hospital room for the evening. No visitors were allowed. I had a very rough night.
I FaceTimed my family the following morning. Looking at my son’s smile over the iPhone made it all too clear. I was still alive.
Life lesson number one:
- No, I am not the T1000. I am a human being who must prioritize herself and treat her body well before she dies.
I put on 40 pounds since my husband died. It has slowly crept on. My kidney removal makes it imperative that I watch my salt and protein intake. The size of my ass indicates my need to watch my sugar intake as well. I should prioritize a part of my day to exercise. I must love myself enough to stop eating like shit, exercise, and take better care of my physical body. I am always the last person I tend to in every way.
Life lesson number two:
- Stop sweating the small stuff.
This life lesson came easier than I thought. If there were ever a time to drop my fucks for good, cancer would be the right time to let go. I never realized how much I still cared about the way people felt about me, particularly on how I raise my autistic son. I am learning to stop being angry at people, and I am learning how to transition from “Fuck You!!!” to absolutely no thought at all (“I don’t give a fuck about you”). It’s very liberating. Leaving the house is therapeutic. Walking outside every day is very necessary, even with the coronavirus and its restrictions. Adaptability is critical. Raising an autistic child means having to be very adaptable.
Life lesson number three:
- Make time for your mind.
I hyper-plan, ruminate, and never turn off my mind. Taking a moment to myself to not think at all and off my mind is the hardest thing to do. It is challenging to find space for myself, even in the most secluded places. My mind is always on. My time to turn off is at night. Meditation is not my strong suit. I would only do it at yoga classes. Now that COVID-19 happened, I had to learn to budget time for myself, even if I can do this a couple to times a week.
Life lesson number four:
- Be selfish.
Life is too fucking short. Period! It is time to get selfish about feeling happy, less stressed, going with the flow, letting shit roll off my back, etc. Making it imperative to experience the good stuff and live in the moment has incredibly positive effects on the soul. Being selfish allows me to experience life and not resent it for the things I can’t change.
For example, I got selfish on Mother’s Day this year. I woke up in bed with my boyfriend and had a lover’s morning before spending the rest of that day with my son. I do not apologize for that. For the first time in 4 years, I didn’t cry my eyes out over Mother’s Day. I can’t change how sad the memories of Mother’s Day are for me as my husband went all out, but when I woke up that morning to find my boyfriend in bed with me, I felt grateful. For this, I am blessed.
It’s been almost two months since the surgery. I’m still healing and putting my body back together from that brick wall. The need for change is so pressing. Life is only ever once. I wish it didn’t take hitting another brick wall to confirm how valuable life is.
~ Love, Diana