Kidney Cancer…Again

Let me tell you about kidney cancer and its aftermath.

Twelve years ago, my husband had horrific back pain, out of nowhere, and instead of the kidney stones everyone was expecting, he was diagnosed with kidney cancer. Surgery followed a week later, a right nephrectomy. He spent four days in the hospital, came home, recovered, and was back at work (retail) a couple weeks later.

For the next five years, he had a CT scan every three months and a bone scan every six. Nothing else ever showed up, thank God. That was 2009.

Two months ago, he was undergoing a baseline lung CT scan, and the tech noticed something down near his left kidney. The following week, he had an MRI. Kidney cancer again. Twelve years later.

At the end of September, he had a left nephrectomy. He spent nine days in the hospital, on oxygen and with an a-fib event for half of that, in the step-down ICU. A few weeks later, he had another surgery to finish an AV fistula in his left arm, for access.

He’s spent a lot of time dozing, not sleeping much at night; food tastes off, even if he goes off his diet and tries things he used to enjoy; he gets tired easily when he walks around, his blood pressure is up and his oxygen is down.

And then there’s dialysis. Three times a week for four hours, or he’ll die. That’s a fact. He is not eligible for a transplant until he’s cancer-free for five years.

There’s a TV show called B-Positive, a sitcom, cute, entertaining. We still watch it, in spite of the fact that Hollywood is not known for its realism. But holy cow, they really dropped the ball on this one.

See, the first season was all about this geeky guy who ran into a quirky old high school acquaintance, and when she found out he was in kidney failure, she offered to donate one of hers. The main scenes revolve around four or five people in a dialysis clinic, who talk and laugh and joke during treatment, often go out to dinner or have parties or date or whatever.

But damn. I’ve seen the inside of two dialysis clinics, and this is NOT WHAT THEY LOOK LIKE.

You know how, maybe, you’ve walked into a nursing home, and people are sitting around in wheelchairs or regular chairs, and they all look out of it, at the very least, and no one is talking or laughing or joking around? Yeah. It’s like that. Sick people. Not particularly happy people. Certainly not people planning on a night out. It’s depressing as hell.

THAT is the reality.

What else is involved? He’s not supposed to eat much sodium, potassium, or phosphorus. What foods have phosphorus? Every. Single. Thing.

It’s checking vitals once or twice a day, which are transmitted to Mercy Virtual; a nurse practitioner calls once a week to go over everything, or more often if things aren’t looking too good. It’s coordinating appointments and tests with our general practitioner, a vascular surgeon, an oncologist, urologist, cardiologist, and nephrologist—and it took six weeks to get that one. [insert eyeroll]

It’s no showers as long as he has the catheter for dialysis, a couple weeks of wearing a heart monitor, still more outpatient surgery to remove that catheter, weekly blood work and doctor visits.

Because of the effects of dialysis, it’s gone from a seven-day week to maybe three half-days of being able to do whatever he wants—as long as his energy holds out.

Less than two months ago, he was cutting down trees and splitting logs, doing tractor work, and finishing up projects around the farm.



Here’s the thing about Confederate monuments, whether they’re statues, buildings, whatever: they were erected and named in order to try to heal the country after a brutal civil war. States and counties and cities put up the statues and named the buildings—try to put yourself in the shoes of the losing side. To half the country, the Confederate monuments were honoring their heroes; many of those men were indeed heroic on the battlefield, regardless of their beliefs or yours.

I don’t think any one of them say “Here lies a great slaveowner.”

People are complicated. Each one of us does good things and bad things. It’s okay to remember the good and condemn the bad. That doesn’t mean you forget the bad.

And trying to ascribe modern thinking to the past will definitely muddle it up.

Comparing Confederates to Hitler is erroneous; Confederates fought in a war, Hitler tried to annihilate an entire people. Yes, it’s that simple.

You should, rightfully, believe that slavery was a terrible thing. Neither you nor I had one single thing to do with it, but yes, our ancestors did. Our ancestors. Not us.

Now, you can be angry, you can be enraged about the Civil War and how people used to think and believe and act, but you also can’t know what each of them were thinking or why they did what they did. Sure, there are still some letters and papers that give clues, but as for individuals, you just can’t know.

The Civil War split families and communities even then, yet here were are, doing the exact same thing. Having an air of superiority about your own beliefs and completely discounting others’ is wrong, no matter the subject.

Do you have kids? Aren’t there some things they’ve done that you’re proud of? Of course there are. What about things they’ve done or said that appalled you? Does that make you say, “Screw them, I hate them, they’re terrible children?” I seriously doubt it.

I’ve told my ancestor story before, but I’ll tell it again:

Once upon a time, a fourteen-year-old boy in Mississippi joined up to fight for the South; so did his three brothers and his father. They were sharecroppers; they owned no slaves. “States’ rights” was a rallying cry then, so maybe that’s why they fought. I don’t know, and neither do you.

Stanford Smith was captured in Arkansas. At some point, he escaped, and he was helped by another young teenage boy, a Yankee soldier. After the war, Stanford became a minister and married a young lady who reportedly had Indian blood. Some time later, that Yankee who helped him escape during the war, Jonathon Kirk, wrote to him about selling some horses; Jonathon and his son, Samuel, took a herd to Mississippi where Samuel fell in love with Stanford’s daughter. They married when she turned sixteen.

That, my friends, is the ultimate healing. No one bitched about a statue, no one burned down a building because of its name, but two families came together. And if they hadn’t, I wouldn’t be here, and neither would my cousins.

Even if I knew for sure that Stanford believed in slavery, I wouldn’t slash him from family history—he had his reasons, even if I don’t agree with them, whatever they were. I wouldn’t presume to speak for him, and, maybe the entire point is that he’s been dead for 111 years. Many, many things have changed since then.