There are people, who enter our lives and we know they are meant to be there. They teach you so much about yourself, and the person you want to be. They’re inspirational, they lift you up, and they fill places that sometimes you didn’t even know you needed filled. For me, my boyfriend’s mom, Cindy, is one of those people. From the instant I met her, I knew she was a wonderful person.
She’s kind, and giving. She’s quiet and observant. She’s reserved but only to a certain extent. She’s hilariously funny. She’s warm and smart. She is multi-talented. She is forgiving and honest. She’s a great listener, and an even better giver of advice. She is one of the most amazing people I have ever had the privilege to meet, in my entire life. She is a wonderful mother, partner, sister, aunt, and friend. I only wish I had met her sooner.
I’m ashamed to say, that until recently, I took her role in my life for granted. I’m busy, and so when requests to spend time together would present themselves, the words “I’m busy,” “There’s too much on my plate right now,” became my mantra. The glorification of the words “I’m too busy,” never dawned on me until March of this year.
You see, in March, while on a work trip/vacation hundreds of miles away, we received a phone call that has changed our lives. It’s not a phone call anyone would ever want to receive. In a hotel room, in Kansas City Missouri, hours & hours away from home & from Cindy, we learned that Cindy was in the hospital. She had spent the night’s previous to her admission in pain that she finally succumbed to and forced her to the emergency room. After some tests, sonogram, & a CT scan, the doctors informed Cindy and her partner Janet, that it was highly likely Cindy had cancer. The doctors would need to do more tests, but the prognosis at that point simply was not good.
Talking to Cindy on the phone, we knew she really was not herself between the pain and the morphine she was on to curb the severe pain she was in, but as always she stayed so positive and upbeat. Such an inspiration, such an amazing person. We explained to her that the convention we were at wasn’t done for another few days and that we would finish our trip as planned but that we would be home as soon as possible, and that we would see her as soon as we arrived back home.
It was the hardest decision I have ever had to make, to date. Choosing to finish a trip we had paid hundreds of dollars for in non-refundable hotel & class charges when honestly the money was the very last thing of any importance to us. To sit in a hospital waiting for news, and feeling utterly helpless, and knowing that in the coming months, trips like these would be highly unlikely with a very sick mother. I’m still not sure we made the right decision, I’m sure many people did disagree with that choice but it wasn’t one made lightly. It still hurts to think about.
I cried numerous times on our trip. Several of the times, I didn’t even know why I was crying. Some of the time it just felt like pure frustration. Other times, I would cry after simple things. One of the days the dogs pulled too hard on their leash and although they did hurt my finger, it wasn’t horrible. I’ve been hurt worse. But I still cried for an hour. Not baby tears, it was heart wrenching grief. Thinking about a woman who would turn 55 in the coming month, dealing with cancer. It put a brick in the pit of my stomach. She’s too young! She hasn’t fully lived life! We haven’t gotten married, we haven’t had kids. I want this woman at our wedding. I want her to see grand-children. It’s a reality all too many people face these days. It makes me sick.
When we arrived back home, true to our word we made it a priority to see Cindy. In my mind, I had prepared myself to see a very sick person. I thought she would be pale and without color, and I don’t know why I imagined this skinny, sick looking person, but that’s what I imagined. When we saw Cindy, she looked just like herself. A little tired, sure. But she was just as smiley as usual, just as upbeat and positive. Her normal, wonderful self. It was so hard to believe that this person was sick.
We learned all about her diagnosis. It was kidney cancer, Stage 4…renal cell carcinoma. The mass was the size of a football, and was affecting her right kidney, diaphragm, liver, chest, & ribs. It was one of the largest the doctors had ever seen. Cindy had had no symptoms other than the pain that originally caused her to seek medical treatment. There were no signs that this wonderful, amazing woman was so sick.
Over the next weeks, Cindy’s days were filled with doctors appointments, phone calls, chemo, morphine, more doctors appointments. She didn’t relent with her positive attitude. She was a beacon of light for us all. The doctors planned surgery for June, and the weekend prior to surgery, we all got together for a cookout with Cindy to make sure she was surrounded by everyone she loved before going into this very major, possibly 10+ hour surgery.
On June 12th, 2013, Travis & I headed to Marshfield to be with the family during Cindy’s surgery and to show support. I remember the sunrise being so amazingly beautiful, and telling Travis that surely this was a good sign. It truly was breathtaking. I knew Cindy would make it through this surgery, I had known in my heart for weeks, but this was like God reaching out and telling me that He would take care of her.
When we arrived, it seemed like the whole family was there. All arranged in the back of the waiting room together, showing our support. We learned that Cindy was being prepped and that they would come back out for Janet & Travis so that they could both have a few moments with her. We knew that the surgery would be very risky, and that it would likely be 10-12 hours long. Afterward, we were told she would be in ICU and would be in therapy for weeks.
Writing this is hard. Reading this is harder. Making sure I have all of the details and that I am telling the story in the right way.
I cannot stress enough how amazing the doctors were at Marshfield clinic. It seemed like every hour they were giving us news. Telling us where they were in the surgery. Telling us she was doing fantastic. Things seemed to be progressing quicker than planned, and going so well! The waiting room was so positive. We laughed and joked, held the newest niece in the family and reveled in her innocence and sweet smile. We passed her around the room and let her lift our spirits as only new babies can. A reminder of how vibrant and pulsing life is.
Around 2, a doctor came out to speak with Travis & Janet and we had no idea what it was about. We knew the surgery should still be going and there wasn’t any time to get any information. As we sat in the waiting room waiting for our 2 lifelines to come back, you could literally cut the tension with a knife. It was gut wrenching. I felt like I was literally choking back sobs and holding on by a thin thread, and the whole time I felt like I couldn’t really break down because I needed to be strong. That 15 minute wait was the worst I have ever endured. The worst.
When Travis & Janet came back out, they informed us the surgery was over. The doctors had successfully removed Cindy’s right kidney, a portion of her liver, 80% of her diaphragm, and a portion of her lung, and gall bladder. There had been a portion in her chest wall too dangerous to remove since the way this rare cancer grows is not typical of most cancers. There was also another portion close to her spine that was unable to be removed, but the doctors exact words to Travis & Janet were “We extended Cindy’s life today.”
At that point, I could not hold on any longer. I emotionally checked out, and was choking back sobs, causing me to need to leave the waiting room. I just wanted to run, far, far away. As far as I could run, as fast as I could run. I couldn’t believe any of this was happening and it was SO hard. It is so hard. It is emotionally indescribable. When I try to describe to you how this experience makes me feel the words fail me. I feel so inept. Anxious. Scared. Outraged.
When we finally were able to see Cindy, a little less than 4 hours after the surgery, she was in so much pain. But again, so positive. With her weak voice saying to us, “I see all you guys.” as we crammed our bodies into her tiny room. We just wanted to fill that room up with so much love. Cindy, in her drug induced state, told her niece and I that she wanted to plant some corn right there in her room. Truly the ray of sunshine we are all use to.
Cindy has since recovered from her surgery, she is doing well. She has been accepted into an experimental drug trial that could turn her hair white, and we’ve spent some time laughing and giggling about it. Don’t worry, I told her…you have me. I’ll color it. She’ll still be beautiful though, even with white hair.
This is where I introduce you to Cindy’s new blog. She started a blog called “Rearranging Reality,” and I would love it if you follow her journey. If you look at her blog, please, please, PLEASE take 30 seconds and write her a note of encouragement. It doesn’t matter what you write, as long as it is positive and encouraging. We really need your support.
I truly appreciate you taking the time to read this post. It’s something I haven’t been talking about with very many people. It’s a personal journey for our family, but most importantly for Cindy. I have nothing but the greatest awe of her. She never ceases to amaze me with her strength and positivity. I think you will be pretty amazed too. Thank you again. You are so appreciated.