It Really Is a Wonderful Life

Thursday, December 4, 2014

I’ve only seen the movie, It’s a Wonderful Life a handful of times, unlike my former boss and amazing writer, Bob Welch, who has seen this movie at least a hundred times. He probably has it memorized by now.

But the message can’t be told often enough: This Life is Wonderful. I’ve been guilty of taking this life for granted too many times. Just as George learned that his birth, his life, his actions effect everyone around him. The butterfly effect.

The other day I was watching a talk show, not something that I do that often, but I had the afternoon off so while I reheated my ham and mac & cheese leftovers, I pushed the button to turn the Boob Tube on. There was an organization, Roses for something, that donates monies to families in order for members to gather to see a loved one for the last time or provides a cancer patient with a last wish. I’m not alone, unfortunately, to say that Cancer has had a huge impact on my family. My father died of Lung Cancer. His sister died of cancer. My cousin Judy is a cancer survivor. And I am a cancer survivor.

But what jolted me was when I listened to a grieving mother who had recently lost her child to a rare form of Kidney Cancer. Wilms’ Kidney Cancer. Wow, that could have been me.

In a recent blog, I wrote about how instead of biking between Seattle to Portland like planned, I underwent an emergency radical nephrectomy, though I wasn’t as specific when i wrote of battling against Cancer instead of peddling my butt off.

I did mention that I hadn’t played goal in a few years because I got tired of getting hurt, and that position seemed to always bring out the Kamakazee Pilot within me. But the team needed me, so I caved and said that I would keep goal. Little did I know that that decision perhaps saved my life.

I have told this story so many times, but I don’t think I have written the story down that many times. Spoken words don’t seem to reverberate as much as the written words. It’s as if with the words, I am forced to really face the experience.

By this point in the story, some of you have figured out that something must have happened. I got kicked in the stomach as a result of my throwing my body on the soccer ball as if a goal scored on my watch would really mean that much.

As a result, I got the wind knocked out of me. I probably walked it off and continued to play. I’ve always been tough. Give me physical pain. I can handle physical pain a lot better than I can deal with psychological pain.  I am a firm believer that I sought out physical pain in order to fend off emotional pain. Instead of becoming a cutter or an erasor as some teens do, I used sports to create bruises, strawberries (really bad scrapes), broken bones, and torn ligaments.

After getting kicked in the gut, I went about life as scheduled. I was an inventory expert for RGIS. I sure was a whiz on a ten key pad. I told my boss that I may have to cut out early as I wasn’t feeling so good and that perhaps I had broken a rib during the soccer game. I was joking around with the crew, asking people what it would feel like if I were bleeding internally. My imagination tends to go off the deep end most of the time, but this time it was as if I were forecasting my own future.

i went to the doctor, though i didn’t realize at the time that I probably had the worst doctor in Eugene, though she became a minor character quickly, another thing that may have saved my life. (I have a friend who claims that this doctor that I had had misdiagnosed her sister’s cancer and as a result her sister died.)

Remember that this was happening in 1988 where the medical field was not as advanced as it is now, though so much better than it would have been in  1965 when I was supposed to have been diagnosed with Wilms’ Cancer.

I’m getting ahead of myself.

My general practioner ran me through the usual Xrays. Nothing showed up. it didn’t see the soft-ball sized tumor that had consumed my right kidney. I was scheduled for an Ultra Sound the next day.

Anyone who has had kidney stones, like my brother-in-law or my close friend Lori, you can relate to what I was to experience that night. Instead of feeling like I broke a rib, it felt as if I were being stabbed in the back. I had never felt pain this bad, so searing.

I don’t remember if I waited until my scheduled ultra sound or if I went in to the emergency room. Not only did this happen a long time ago, but at a certain time, the amount of pain medication I received changed what I remember, mixing those memories with my imagination.

Sylvia had already left to bike the STP without me since the doctor reassured us that my injury wasn’t serious. To come to her defense, the doctor that is, she was not the only professional to get buffaloed by my cancer presentation. As Sylvia racked up the miles, I was racking up my own miles as the pain grew exponentially.

The Ultra sound only gave the doctor’s  the notion that something was wrong with my kidney. I had been hit by a car when I was twelve, and it wouldn’t have surprised the doctors that that impact had injured my kidney. But we were grasping straws. The ultrasound didn’t see the softball-sized cancer.

My faith on medical science was waning. I just wanted something to stop the pain. Anything. Death seemed like a viable option at that point.

I was admitted to Sacred Heart General Hospital. It hadn’t grown into a medical center yet. Sacred Wallet was what many people called the institution. At that point, time’s a blur. I remember seeing my grey  cat Stanley in my room, though he would just run by, never taking the time to sit with me. But there were more important things to deal with than my minor hallucinations.

Earlier in this story I mentioned that I was kidding with co-workers about what it would feel like to be bleeding internally. that’s exactly what started to happen. This experience taught me that I needed to be careful in asking for things as so many times we get our prayers answered, though perhaps not when we want it.

Blood in my urine. Acute abdominal pain. A fever. These ingredients created a recipe for Emergency Surgery. I’m not even sure who gave the doctor’s permission. Perhaps my dad did. Somehow friends had contacted him and he caught the next flight from Florida to Oregon.

Just like a baked-stuff Lobster, I was split up the gut so the doctor’s could see first hand what was going on in my body since the baseball-sized tumor was able to hide on the Xrays and on the Ultrasound. But this Wilms’ tumor was so tricky that even when the doctors were looking at the mass, they came to the conclusion that it was probably just a cyst. It didn’t look like anything that anyone had seen before. Lucky me. Why couldn’t I have won the lottery instead. I probably had better odds of winning the lottery than being diagnosed with Wilms’ Kidney Cancer.

This is what says about my kind of cancer:

T”he first sign is normally a painless abdominal tumor that can be easily felt by the doctor. An Ultrasound, Computed Tomography, or MRI is done first. A tumor biopsy is not typically performed due to the chance of upstaging the cancer and seeding the abdomen with malignant cells.”

My Wilms’ tumor wasn’t playing by the rules except for the one that said that biopsy will increase the diagnostic stage. But since these experts concluded that they were only dealing with a cyst, they did the biopsy while the tumor was still in me instead of taking the whole ball of wax out and then taking a sample. There are five stages of cancer. Five”s the worst. Instead of being a stage I or II or III,  my prognosis shift to stage IV. I don’t remember seeing that card when I played the game of life as I drove my little plastic car around the board with my blue and pink passengers. But that’s the card I was dealt in my life. I spent the next couple of years playing 52-card pickup. Every time I thought I had picked up the deck, something would happen to cause the cards to go flying around the room. Perhaps there’s some truth to the suspicion that I’m not playing with a full deck as some have thought.

It’s possible that I was born with the Wilms’ tumor. It is after all a children’s cancer. Typically the tumor is discovered during yearly checkups as the cancer has the disposition to grow rather large and a simple palpation ought to discover this mass. My mass was a master of hide-and-go-seek and instead of being diagnosed before I was eight, it wasn’t discovered until I was twenty-eight.Wilms_tumor

I hope I never have to go through cancer therapy again, but I’m glad that I did do it when I was young and healthy. Being active in soccer, lacrosse, and biking had my body rather fit. But fifteen months of chemotherapy and seven weeks of radiation really did a number on me. I probably only weighed 120 sopping weight at the time, but when the scales  dipped to just two figures, I wasn’t looking very  good.

I remember when the diagnosis of having a children’s cancer finally sank in, it was like I put in a missing piece of a jigsaw puzzle that was my life and things started to make sense. When I was young, I lost a friend to Leukemia. I hadn’t experienced death and my friend’s family had moved away before Gayland Gates died, so I was removed from the harsh reality, but I did pick up on how his death had a ripple effect of all of the people around me. Being the mini dramatist I tended to be when I didn’t get my way, I started to think about the ways I could make my parents, especially my dad, pay the ultimate price. My death would that price. I basically started praying  for this destiny; these death wishes increased after my mom died. My plan of revenge was despicable, but I was just a child. I did eventually grow up and stopped wishing for something so ridiculous, but it’s possible I had planted the seed. I learned that I had better be careful in what I pray for as I got exactly what I wanted; I just didn’t get it when I wanted it.

For all of the research I have done on the internet, I’ve not found anything on adults having Wilms’ Kidney Cancer. I know I can’t be the only one, but it is so rare there’s no data to suggest otherwise.

This is where the movie, It’s a Wonderful Life, helps me put things in perspective. If I had been diagnosed before 1965, the odds of my survival wouldn’t have been that good; the chemotherapy probably would have been harder than the cancer. And yet, I wonder what the wider ramifications would have been if I were diagnosed in 1965. Would my mom have sobered up or would she had gone off the deep end sooner rather than later. I’m not sure what the purpose of these meanderings are, but that’s what my brain tends to do.

The only thing I know for certain is that I’m alive and have been cancer-free since 1988. I’ll let you do the math. And this reminds me to not take this Wonderful Life for granted.



  1. So glad you are here! Still! Figuring out the whys and wherefores of Life is useless. There are any good answers, only a LOT of questions. xxxxx

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