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WE STILL DO – KIM & JEFFREY

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KIM:

There was blood…

One hour before the mayor of Philadelphia’s Inauguration Celebration, I see it. During my quick bathroom break I spot blood in the toilet. I hoped it was a warning sign of my monthly cycle to come.  It was not. I’m not sure how I knew something was wrong but I did.

My name was being called over the walkie talkie from someone on the production team as if the world was on fire (everything in event planning is a fire to some people.) “Go for KIM!” I responded as if to say, “I’m HERE…funny.”

After putting out the event-fire I called Jeffrey, my husband, and said “I just saw blood in the toilet when I went to the bathroom!”  Of course he thought it had to be a “female” situation—but it wasn’t.

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I called my doctors-yes several of them. My primary care physician and my gynecologist were first. I wasn’t totally convinced that it was something serious, but I am forever grateful that my doctors were persistent in finding out what was wrong.

After ruling out hemorrhoids and a few other possibilities, I scheduled a colonoscopy with a gastroenterologist. I really didn’t fit the profile, but that’s not unusual for me. I’ve had early mammograms and fibroid surgery so I figured it was just my doctor being his usual thorough self.

The prep was worse than the procedure. I remember waking up from the colonoscopy and the GI telling me I was very lucky. They had found a concerning tumor, but it was found early. When the pathology report came in she asked me to come into her office. I only remember the word carcinogen and not much else. I began to cry and she assured me that she merely wanted to rule out the possibility of it being something more serious.

My GI had said I was lucky because it was detected early. She held my hand and took me upstairs to meet my new BFF—the colorectal surgeon. He was kind and informative and told me that the tumor was caught early, but more tests were needed just to be safe. He discussed the options for removal of the tumor and something about an ileostomy bag, but I didn’t really understand how that would work!

After the additional tests were done, it was confirmed. At our follow up appointment, the surgeon began to describe the plan of attack to remove ‘it’ and he mentioned that bag again!

I remember holding Jeffrey’s hand and tears streaming down my face. At some point, I halted the surgeon’s explanation and said “Wait, are you saying I have cancer?” He said yes, and I resumed crying. He continued to explain his plan of attack, which sounded very strategic, careful and focused. I remember he said it (my bowel) will never be as good as God made it, but he would do his best.  I was thankful that I had a surgeon who knew his human limitations as well as his own abilities. I liked him immediately. It was December 2008.

JEFFREY:

Carcinoma in situ.  Although I didn’t know what “in situ” meant, I knew very well that carcinoma was one thing we wanted no part of.  It was December 2008.  My wife, Kim, had finally gotten to her doctor for the chance to check out what was worrying her.  Despite frequent exercise and a healthy diet, Kim had a gnawing concern that something wasn’t right.  As usual, however, I was not overly concerned.  Part of the beauty of our relationship was our diametrically opposed approaches to most things.  Kim, a dedicated, driven, hard charging type A-Aries woman had taken a rough road through a tough life and was an experienced natural worrier. I, an idealistic, optimistic Libra flower child, glided through a life of comfort and opportunity with a “what, me worry?” attitude about everything. We were an example of the old truism that opposites attract.

When we went to the consultation with her GI and the specialist she wanted Kim to confer with, Kim was worried and I was concerned, but I was convinced that this scare would be no more than a minor issue and another example of worrying about nothing.  I could feel, however, that this really had Kim worried on a deeper than normal level, and I had to admit to myself that this was a little more than nothing to worry about.  “In situ” must mean not yet, right?…Like it’s almost cancer, right?…or something like carcinoma right?

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As I sat holding Kim’s hand in the consult, I realized that as the specialist, a noted  colorectal surgeon, began to describe the procedure he would use to bisect the rectum and remove the tumor (TUMOR?) that we were indeed in the high grass, ’Kunta’, and we were ’cotched up’  in the net of life and death struggle, right now. At that very second I felt a limpness in Kim’s previously desperately tight grip on my hand, and I knew that it was my cue to step up to the plate with courage and strength she had always viewed me as, even when I didn’t see it in myself.

KIM:

I was told that I had time and I could schedule the surgery for after the holidays—great, my bad news wouldn’t ruin our annual Kwanzaa celebration. I got a second, third and fourth opinion. My gynecologist and my surgeon conferred with each other. We all agreed Dr. Stein, my colorectal surgeon, was good and his plan was solid. So, I scheduled the surgery for February 2009, a bowel resection with a temporary ileostomy bag. Now it was time to share the news.

I was afraid to tell my immediate family. Jeffrey and I have been together since 1990. We married in 1996 and have a blended family of six wonderful children. We called a family meeting after we rehearsed what to say in our bedroom over and over.  The children immediately knew that something was wrong.  As we explained my diagnosis and plans for surgery and recovery, their blank stares and silence was scary.

I felt as if I had failed my family as a mother, wife and aunt (I’m the legal guardian of my nephew Erick). My only sister Nicole transitioned in 1999 after battling sickle cell disease all of her life. I remembered how her death felt and looked on my mother, and how we all felt.  How could I do this to the people I love?

And then, as depression, despair and sadness settled in, my husband Jeffrey came into focus. Jeffrey was by my side when I couldn’t see my way out of this. I remember waking-up in the middle of the night crying out and asking Jeffrey if this was a dream.  Was this real… did I have cancer?

And then I would cry.  He would hold me close and closer. He would comfort me and cry with me.  Jeffrey told me, “I’ve got you and we’ll get through this.”  As clear as the day and sun, Jeffrey became the beacon of clarity, love and direction for the journey to fight for my life.  It was that simple.  This is THE fight.

Make no mistake—cancer is the almighty warrior and alienator.  You’re alone in your thoughts, fears and facing your mortality.  But I had Jeffrey and no matter what, he was with me.  Every surgery, chemo treatment, radiation with chemo infusion and chemo again—he was there.

After my first surgery, I had a temporary ileostomy.  When I looked down at the bag and the stoma, I was overwhelmed…what is that? When the bag needed to be changed, Jeffrey changed it.  Jeffrey made me laugh a lot and took excellent care of me. He took care of my mind, body and spirit.  I was certain that were soulmates before my diagnosis, and it was confirmed many times over throughout this journey.  He is my hero and the love of my life.  I needed to live to continue to be his wife, to see my children grow into adulthood and experience all that God has for me on this journey.

Our lives and love have been changed forever and for the better. I appreciate more of the simple things in life, love, marriage and family.  While I always put my family first and as my struggle with the illness increased, my will to fight for my life was driven by my family. My family’s love for me gave me added strength to fight.

Jeffrey and I have always had our laughter.

We share a unique perspective on humor. We laugh a lot more now. We kiss more, we cuddle more… I reach for his hand to hold every chance I get.  Jeffrey likes his own space and appreciates his solitude.  I infringe on his time often just to see him, kiss him and be in his presence. Sometimes, I pinch myself and question him….are you sure you love ME? His response is usually filled with humor and I laugh at his funny response but his eyes tell me the truth of his soul and ever loving commitment to me and our marriage and family……he’s mine forever.  I am blessed to have him.kim-jeffrey-and-family

I am adamant about keeping our family gatherings and celebrations like Kwanzaa dinners and hope they will continue with my children and their families for generations to come. I look forward to the new traditions my children will create as they have their own families. I tell the children I love them at every opportunity.  I embrace them tighter now.

Jeffrey is by my side for every scan, colonoscopy and routine doctor appointment.  He often tries to use them as our “date-nights”…no chance I say. But I do know that this is more than we expected when we took our vows….in sickness and in health.. for better or worse… but we meant it and wouldn’t have it any other way. Our love is a journey and beautiful ride with our seat belts on. We give thanks to the Creator, our ancestors, our family and close friends who have supported our love and marriage through that challenging time and always… Ashe.

JEFFREY:

Life after cancer treatment has created a new normal for our family.  We have adjusted as best we can to the routine of the ongoing medication procurement and administration, the traumatic physical and mental effects of three surgical procedures, a complete reworking of Kim’s internal plumbing and massive amounts of chemicals and radiations endured by her body. One of our norms is the ‘chemo-brain’ phenomenon where some things can be forgotten quickly, while minute sometimes distressing details of other things are keenly recalled. Obviously, it’s no day at the beach.

Yet, although I feel immense disdain for this cancer, which causes such pain, emotional distress and financial burden on so many people, I also have gained a greater appreciation for each moment Kim and I have been given.

We have learned to survive, even master the wild swings of joy and despair, which constitute ordinary life, but are made more dynamic and stark given the permanent impact of this whole cancer situation. This cancer diagnosis which came during the course of many family life events including, two job lay-offs, a high school graduation, two college graduations, the loss of medical coverage, struggles with adolescent children, long-term unemployment, trips, vacations and so much more (our dog even died) … we would not allow the circumstances to define us. Instead, we are defined as among those who survive by living, loving and fighting on.

Cancer has also been a validation of my “What, me worry?” attitude as through it all we have managed to keep our heads above water financially and as a family. I’m often reminded of the spiritual song “God will take care of me”.  I have neither inclination nor patience for spending time worrying about or even acknowledging petty everyday annoyances.  Life is a balancing act using courage and foresight to overcome fear over what may or may never happen.  This experience has hardened my commitment to forever regardless of what lies ahead. I commit to learn, grow and share what it is to live fully, freely and meaningfully – finding joy, comfort and ease in the face of disease.

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