February 3rd, 2021. I have the date circled on my super duper “Be the Hero” Erin Condren planner. I don’t have any words written down. Just a big C. No words needed. The day it all changed. It seems like a lifetime ago, when really it’s just been 7 weeks. 7 weeks and a lifetime ago….
You’re going to notice a common theme in this story. The Goodwill plays a pivotal role. Now everyone knows I love a good Goodwill like nobody’s business. You wanna blow my skirt up? Talk about a trip to the Goodwill. So it was no surprise I was in the Goodwill that day at lunch. Meandering thru the home goods looking for a treasure. And then. A pain in my abdomen like nothing I had ever felt. I’ve been thru labor, kidney stones, a perforated stomach from a botched lap band. No, this was something different. Enough to make me put my buggy up and head back to work where I sat in silence in our conference room the last 30 minutes of my lunch hour.
By the time I made it home, the pain had reached a level beyond anything I could control. And I was bleeding. Heavily. I fought it thru the night, called my gyno but couldn’t get an appt until the NEXT day until 1 in the afternoon noon. The fear of getting Covid was the only thing that kept me from running to the ER and throwing myself in the floor asking for help. Fast forward a few fb messages to my childhood friend who worked at my gyno (gotta love a small town) and a whole lotta gripping the headboard rails to withstand the pain and I was told to come in at 9 AM. I felt so bad and hurt so bad I went in my pajamas. My pajamas, y’all. I don’t do that. And normally got something to say about people who do.
Did I know something was wrong? Absolutely. Did I expect the next words from a doctor I’ve been going to for over 30 years? Heck no. To say the biopsy was excruciating is an understatement. I said words in front of him I would have never. He rips off his gloves, throws them in the garbage and says “Kim, this is cancer we are dealing with.” Excuse me? Back up and say that again? Cause surely you didn’t mean to say that. “I’m gonna send you over for an ultrasound and wah, wah, wah…..”. His voice sounded like Charlie Browns teacher in my head. Standing in line to make my copay, my friend recognized I was fixing to pass out. She moved me into her office and brought my husband in. Cancer???? I couldn’t speak or walk or even have a coherent thought. Me? Cancer? Now, wait a minute God.
No, there were no biopsy results back and some say maybe he shouldn’t have said the C word before we knew it WAS the C word. I won’t say that. I am thankful for a caring doctor who knew and a small town staff who set a ball rolling that you won’t find in a big town. You’ve heard me say before small town living is for me. Keep your big cities. Scottsboro is just right for me. Everyone knows your business? Good. Cause they all prayed for me. Praise God. From whom ALL blessings flow. Prayers, and small towns and even cancer.
An ultrasound here, a CT scan there, a whole lot of worry and a whole lot of waiting. An inconclusive biopsy that couldn’t differentiate between two types of cancer and an oncology appointment already scheduled. And a lot of Google. Google can be your friend. It can also be sent straight from the devil himself. The words you’ve heard of, “mortality rate” and “aggressive” and words you’ve never heard, like brachytherapy and “they put the radiation WHERE” jump out at you and strike fear in your heart. And did I mention waiting? There’s a lot of that. And even though everyone says get off Google, well, Google has the answers. And that’s ok to react that way. It makes the text from your son, your only child, that wakes you up, so much better. Keeps reading. That text is coming.
It’s no surprise I was in the Goodwill parking lot when I got the news. I had alternated between lying in bed having a pity party to showing my husband how to cook the spaghetti he loves so much (“Now, listen, if you run out of pampered chef Italian seasoning for the spaghetti sauce call Mandy and order more”) to an overwhelming need to thrift and pick at my favorite Goodwill. And just before I got out to go in, the phone call. “High grade stromal sarcoma”. Now as I said, I was a uterine cancer expert thanks to Google and I knew this was the one I didn’t want. The one only 1 in 2 million women PER YEAR would get. Well, imagine that. I’ve always been extra. It was fixing to bite this gal on the end. Hey, God can I rethink this go big or go home life I’ve lived? It’s not looking too hot right now.
Y’all know I’m a believer. And I look at people and say you can beat addiction and divorce isn’t gonna take you out and time is a wonderful healer and try to lift folks up. It was a whole different story with myself. I am ashamed looking back at my unbelief. Recently, a good figure and mentor to me, Ms Lisa, reminded me of this scripture. This is where I was.
Now, I’m a big believer in signs. And I had asked for 2 along the way. I didn’t tell anyone, not even my husband. Cancer has wreaked havoc in my family, and just a few years ago I had lost my 37 year old 1st cousin Jason to liver cancer. He left behind a wife and 2 beautiful children whose faces remind us so much of him it will take your breath away. Jason loved to hunt, and unknown to me my son had planned a weekend hunting trip with Levi, Jason’s son for a youth duck hunt. Levi was even getting to spend the night. I was behind thrilled. Now, this was Levi’s first ever duck hunt, and not only did he want to kill a duck, he wanted to kill “the” duck. A greenhead Mallard.
I had been thinking of signs along the way I could ask for that would reassure me everything was going to be ok. Signs from God, my momma in Heaven, Jason. Any of them. Say something! Drop a penny in my path. Help me out here. So, it came to me. If I opened my phone on Saturday morning and there was a picture of a boy with a duck, that was my sign. From my momma, and Jason, and the good Lord everything was going to be just fine. I told no one. I was afraid to jinx it.
I woke up Saturday morning, heard the buzz buzz of my phone, reached out a few times and pulled my hand back. I can’t describe how important this was to me. Finally I woke my husband up and said “Pray right now there is a picture of Levi and a duck on my phone”. He looked at me like ok, she’s losing it, but shook his head ok.
I opened my texts. Nothing. Except the jail roster. Now if you really know me you know the love/hate relationship I have with the jail roster. My heart sunk. Well, ok. So I didn’t get my sign. I opened up Facebook and had a red circle indicating I had a message. Oh, the aunts and the Bellomy bunch family group message. And there, in my inbox was the prettiest, wind burned cheek boy holding a duck. And not just a duck. “THE duck”. A greenhead Mallard. And another picture of my precious son sitting on a tailgate full of ducks along with a still smiling Levi. My son, who since day 1 of this cancer journey had accepted nor entertained anything less than total recovery and healing. A boy and a duck. It’s a beautiful thing, y’all.
I wish I could say from that moment on there was no doubts, no fears. I would be a liar. My mind went from being Superwoman who couldn’t believe cancer even dared mess with her to a silent mess of nerves with visions of never seeing my grandchildren born. My son married. My husband with whom my marriage is the thing you can only dream about. That man, y’all. I have never done anything to deserve him.
Hey Did I mention waiting? There is a lot of waiting during a cancer diagnosis. One day can seem to last a week. But, finally, it was Thursday. My appointment with the oncologist. My son had a coworker who had called me whose wife had used this particular doctor. He said he just wanted me to know what to expect. “Now, his bedside manner isn’t exactly comforting. He’s not going to tell you what you want to hear, but what you need to hear. He’s not going to hold your hand”. Hmmmm….dare I ask for another sign? And before you say I was trying to be sign stingy, it was just two! And they were laid on my heart by the Lord himself. One is good but two is better, right?
Once more I sat silent, telling no one about the small reassurance from above I was seeking out. Dr Kirby was matter of fact, told me I had the nastiest of the nasty cancers I could have. It was ugly, aggressive and relentless. It liked to spread other places without warning. The first order of business was a PET scan to check for spread to my liver and lungs. If it hadn’t, a hysterectomy was the next step. Grade and staging and all those things you want to know come after surgery. Remember that waiting thing?
IHis nurse was busy looking at his surgery calendar and got called out of the room. She came in and said “We normally don’t do this, but we had a Monday morning 5:30 cancellation. Do you want it”? My husband and I both said YES at the same time. To the woman who canceled, I hope your back surgery turned out well and I’m sorry you had to cancel to do that first, but thank you. Really. I owe you dinner.
But about that sign. The doctor stood up to leave and my heart sunk once again. I can’t even remember the last question I asked as he started to walk out (I had a list, of course) but he turned, answered my question and reached for my hand, squeezed it and said “We’re going to take care of you”. My hand. You know the one I was told he wasn’t going to hold. That’s MY God right there. I am forever changed by a boy with a duck and a quick hand squeeze. Great are you Lord. I texted my son and told him these ladies had really pulled strings to schedule me so quickly. He reply said it all.
My PET scan results wouldn’t be back til the morning of surgery. If the cancer had spread, surgery would be put off to administer chemo . If there was no spread, surgery was a go. Valentine’s Day (day before surgery) brought icy weather to our area, so we packed up and went to a hotel for the night just down the street from Huntsville Hospital to make sure I could get there by 5:30 AM. It was a solemn, quiet, humbling night. For both of us. Sleep didn’t come easy.
Now, during last years pandemic and quarantine I had come cross a little lady on the Facebook who had made a video of herself making biscuits. I was mesmerized. She was like my momma and my granny and my aunts all rolled into one. She told wonderful stories as she cooked, and I couldn’t get enough. My husband would smile as I told him “Well, Ms Brenda said” as if she was my very best friend I had been on the phone with all day. Since my diagnosis, during those pity parties in my bed had turned into a catch up of Ms Brenda Gantt’s videos. For just a while, at least however long the video lasted, cancer was a distant thought. And it felt good.
I’ve always said my son is the most thoughtful gift ever there ever was. Well…..move over Dylan. Before we left for the hospital my husband said I need to tell you something. I’ve booked us a weekend (March 26-27th) at The Cottle House, Ms Brenda’s bed and breakfast. We will get to have breakfast with her and well, this is something for us to look forward to and fight for. If I haven’t said it lately, I’ve got the best, most thoughtful husband in the world. It was (and has been) the most thoughtful, sincere I’ve ever been given. Y’all can have your cruises and your beaches. Send me to Andalusia to the purple bedroom and a house full of history and antiques. It was the trip of a lifetime. Pretty sure life is all downhill from here.
Wait. I skipped a few things. Surgery. A 4 day hospital stay instead of one night. Being alone (dumb Covid) waiting to hear if your cancer has spread and you can have surgery. Having no visitors in the hospital and having a huge abdominal incision instead of the 5 small ones (had them too!) you were promised. Bringing a catheter home. Y’all. Single most traumatic experience of my life. I can’t even talk about that “tube in a toot” as I call it. I can say if I get aggravated about the small stuff, I remind myself, well, at least you don’t have a tube in your toot. True story.
Recovery was harder than I ever imagined. A radical hysterectomy leaves a woman feeling out of sorts, emotional, rage filled and did I mention the hot flashes? Whoa, Nellie. Did I mention my cancer is hormone fed? I’m just having to wing it over here. So if you see me and I’m more irritable or unreasonable than before, well, I finally have an excuse. I look in the mirror and I don’t even recognize myself. Only way I know to describe it.
And that cancer? Well, with my post surgery appointment came the news that the biopsy now showed a low grade vs the high grade presented by the pre surgery biopsy. There was no explanation, the oncologist said. Oh, I’ve got one. There were people who prayed and stood in the gap for me. Interrupted church services and said excuse me I know you’re trying to preach but the Lord said I am to stand in for Kim right now and well, y’all just get to laying hands on me because there is work to be done. I have no doubt it WAS a high grade, and prayer changed things. We all prayed it right into a low grade tumor. Yes we did. God is good, y’all. But I did have the option to have it sent to Mayo Clinic for a 3rd opinion due to the vast difference. I took that option, knowing if it came back high grade instead of low it meant radiation. And I was back to waiting. Not feeling good. But my trip to meet Ms Brenda getting closer and closer.
In true Kimmie luck, my 3rd opinion biopsy got delayed being sent to Mayo. The doubt started creeping back in. I was still going to Andalusia for the weekend, but it was with a cloud hanging over us. I had begun going back to work half days, but last Wednesday I woke up not feeling well and a tiny nagging thought in my mind something was going to happen that day, so I stayed home. My husband invited me to lunch with my stepson so I went. And well, I was close to my favorite Goodwill so why not run there right? Here we go with the Goodwill theme again.
I left lunch and pulled out into the highway when my oncologists number showed up on my phone. I literally pulled over to the shoulder. “The Mayo Clinic confirmed it was a low grade cancer and no further treatment needed”. Granted, I will have to do future scans and it may rear it’s ugly head again someday. I’ll be ready. Bet your boots on that.
This weekend has been one full of peace, laughter with new friends who were guests at the bed and breakfast and Ms Brenda’s biscuits. She is more charming in person if that’s to be believed. I was putting on my makeup yesterday morning and I heard a noise in the kitchen. I rounded the corner and there she stood in all her apron covered glory saying “Well, good morning, honey”. I was afraid I was going to go all fan girl, but I am happy to say I contained myself and it was like I had known her all my life.
Y’all, southern cooking is not her specialty. Don’t get me wrong, it’s life and a much needed respite from the world we live in to be able to watch her videos. But Ms Brenda’s true gift? It’s kindness. It’s goodness and a love of Christ that shines from within and it’s wonderful, sage advice from an elder in a world where we are rushing thru going thru the motions. Worrying about politics and ugliness and things that don’t make a hill of beans in the grand scheme of things.
This morning, me and the 4 other women guests got to stand in the kitchen as she washed dishes and she told us stories. Her stories. Her life was an open book, and her stories are so personal and heartwarming I’m not going to write about them here. I’m going to hold them in my heart and savor them. And I’m going to go home and be forever changed by this whole experience. Cancer. Doubt and fear. Answered signs. Praying friends and family.
This is the day the Lord has made. I will be glad and rejoice in it. I think I’ll go home, love on my dogs and make some biscuits.