Writing until “The End”

writing-process-2We writers can’t wait to get to “The End.” We type those words on the page and our hearts lift, champagne corks are popped, celebratory cocktails are made. It marks the end of another tale told, all the loose ends neatly tied up. Our characters have touched the darkness, fought the demons, nearly lost, yet have emerged to meet their happy ending. They live to face another day.

But sometimes, we must write to a different “The End”. An end where the storylines are abruptly halted, left untied, where there is no resolution, where the main character doesn’t live to face another day, even though the story is told intimately through her eyes, her thoughts, her perspective.

I am writing to this kind of The End. On Dec. 29th, I was diagnosed with stage IV kidney cancer. It’s treatable, but barely. It isn’t curable. The average survival time is two years. Eight percent make it five years.

I’m 42. I have two children under 10. My future has been stolen from me. *

Let me say this, because in America, we have a weird habit of blaming people for their misfortune, of looking for reasons why they deserve it. I’m slim and I exercise. 5 feet 9 inches tall and 145 pounds, if you must know. I’ve never had a health problem in my life. Normal blood pressure, normal blood sugar. You name it, normal. Never had a prescription except for an occasional antibiotic.

I went to my family doctor because I felt like I had a virus I couldn’t shake. No fever, just tired, not hungry, losing weight. She told me I had anemia. I took iron pills and it didn’t help. Then, a friend who is a nurse came to visit and made me go to the ER because I’d lost a lot of weight and she said I looked terrible. The ER doctor spent two minutes telling me I had cancer and it had spread before leaving me alone in my room.

I had to wait five days to see an oncologist and find out my first health crisis is an incurable cancer.

No, no. I couldn’t get a cancer with hope, like breast cancer, I say to myself. As harsh as it sounds, I relish the thought of fighting a battle I could actually win. One where I could touch the darkness, then emerge victorious. But this is a one-way trip to the darkness.

And I’m even an outlier in my own cancer. This cancer rarely strikes people under 45. It’s most common in men in their 60s. I am neither. The doctors say it’s just bad luck. And I suppose it is. The worst luck.

My storyline has unraveled. I will be ripped from it right in the middle, right in the part where all the other characters need me the most. When I have children who are not yet adults, when I have a Mom who has loved me so selflessly and so epically who will actually, for once, need me to care for her in her twilight years, when I have a husband who planned to become gray and spotted and blind and deaf and old right alongside me, with plenty of sticking our toes in exotic sand in exotic locales together on the way.

I lie awake at night crying. Not for myself, but because I’m going to cause every. last. one. of the people I love the most incredible pain. My husband. My sister. My Mom. My children. Most of all my children.

I suppose, in a way, I am mourning. Mourning for the years that have been stolen from me and from my family. Mourning that I’ll be taken while I still have unfinished work in this life. But I won’t cry forever. No. I can’t. We can’t. We cry now because the crisis is new, the routine upset, the wound from the bad news fresh.

Soon, we will settle into the new normal of treatments and doctors and hospitals and biopsies and Cat scans and prescriptions. At least, I hope we will fall into a routine, because boring and predictable, as much as we hate to admit it, is what we as humans need to carry us through.

And hopefully, in this new normal, I’ll be able to tend to my children. The real, physical ones that I made molecule by molecule out of dry toast and mashed potatoes because the morning sickness was so bad I couldn’t eat. And, my other children. My books and paintings: my imagination made real. Yes, I will tend to those children, too, in part because they, too are a piece of me that will carry on once the flesh is gone. Something my loved ones can turn to to remember me.


17 thoughts on “Writing until “The End”

  1. Renee says:

    I cannot even begin to imagine your pain and mourning. I can imagine your mother’s. I, too, gave up a child unwillingly. My youngest. He was half your age. It just is not the natural order of things for your children to leave this world before you. Not. Ever.

    I don’t know what else to say. Oh the words we hear…carry on. Be strong. Pray. They are all there…even the ones unsaid…the fear that next it might claim us; this evil sickness. We do all the right things…and it still finds us. I don’t know you…but I can feel the enormous all consuming emotional pain… the thoughts you described at leaving a life half lived…and imagine the loss your family will feel. Please know that even though I don’t know you, and I don’t know what to say….that I do care. Many of us do. We humans are not really able to adequately express our caring in times like these..because we fear the unknown..and how hollow our words will sound. And probably somewhere inside feel so inadequate. Please …do take the time to continue to share your feelings as you feel you can. I can’t be there to hold your hands, your children’s, your husband’s, or your mom’s. But I can listen. I will listen. I don’t begin to assume you have a faith that you follow….if you do, it’s probably being sorely challenged right now; however, if you have no objections, I will pray for strength for you and your family to fight this beast called cancer.

    Liked by 4 people

  2. Michelle F. says:

    I don’t think I’ve heard of your books before but I clicked the link to this post in an e-mail from Sara Bourgeois. I live in Ohio too – Toledo. So sorry to hear about this. How was it diagnosed? Just wondering if you had pain and if that sent you to the doctor. What a terrible way to start the new year. I hope you don’t suffer too much. It’s probably best not to dwell on how others will deal with life afterwards, although it may seem worse for the children. I have anxiety so I dwell on things too when someone (a person or pet) may be sick or dying.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Debs says:

    I’m so sad you seem like a Wonderful and strong woman , just remember you are surrounded by love let that be you’re strength to fight this cancer..
    Miracles do happen and people do survive against the odds ..
    Sending you love and light
    Deb xx

    Liked by 3 people

  4. Joseph says:

    Please don’t give up! Keep believing and praying for God’s blessing. He can do all things. Also make sure you’re “Eating healthy” There is a huge difference from being fit and eating healthy. Get some veggies in your diet and stay away from saturated fat and sugar. You’ve probably already done this, but I recently ran into a speaker who talked about this. He said he was thin, jogged everyday, but he ate horribly. Anyhoo, I’ll be praying for you. I know God can turn this around.

    Liked by 3 people

  5. Rhondi Salsitz says:

    My sister in law was diagnosed with stage four kidney cancer as well. She has extremely bad days but she’s into her tenth year or so of survival. Mostly she has good days. May you find a path as well to carry on!

    Liked by 3 people

  6. Kathryn Meyer Griffith says:

    Don’t give up. I, too, was just diagnosed with cancer (breast cancer) but they caught it early and I am getting ready to start radiation treatments; am hopeful…but my brother and father both died from cancer and when I heard that word from my doctor’s lips…as you, it devastated me. Because all you hear at that moment is the word cancer. But I have known MANY people with cancer and some beat all the odds and lived. One friend of my husband’s has had cancer for many many years, fought it many times, won, and he is still here. The doctors don’t know everything! GET A SECOND OPINION! Then fight. God could give you a miracle.

    Liked by 3 people

  7. Cynda Thompson says:

    I know how you feel. June, 2011 I was diagnosed with stage 4 ovarian cancer. I wasn’t feeling good and that winter/spring went to every specialist I go to, and I go to many. They all said my symptoms weren’t anything new, chronic, vague, could be anything. I even went to an OB-GYN. She said one ovary felt a little enlarged, so she ordered a transvaginal ultrasound. It came back normal and she never questioned it or ordered more tests. That was in May! Then I started being short of breath and could hardly breathe. I got in to my PCP and he did an xray and even I could see somthing was wrong. He told me I had a plural effusion where fluid collects in the plura or lining of the lung. I was immediately hospitalized to drain the fluid and I could breathe again. Fluid was sent to pathology. In the meantime they continued testing. A few days later a doctor comes in my room and tells me I have stage 4 ovarian cancer. Stage 4 because it metasticized to the lung and the fluid came from my peritoneum and specifically the ovaries. I would never be cured. A Gyn-Oncologist was assigned to me and I asked her what could I expect of life span. She said 3-5 years, hopefully more. I felt like me life was over. i was 59. I had 3 boys, and from them 4 small grandchildren. I was angry no one caught it in the months leading up to June, especially the OB-GYN. I felt a case of negligence. Why didn’t ANYONE think to do a simple blood cancer antigen marker test, a CA-125? Like you, I was angry, in shock, grieving. For two weeks I couldn’t stop crying.
    Well, I went through the staging and debulking surgery. My doctor wanted me in a research study. It was to test to see if standard chemo was more affective given once every 3weeks or once every week for 6 rounds, each round consisting of 3 weeks. And they were also testing out an investigational drug to see how it affected ovarian cancer. So I completed chemo. I had the every week for 6 rounds and did receive the investigational drug which I feel did save me rather than just routine chemo drugs that some women got. It has been 6 1/2 years since diagnosis and at least over 5 years from chemo. My CA-125cancer marker has been normal and my CT-Scans have been clean of cancer. In the past 3 weeks I have had my 6 month checkup and it was questionable. The CA-125 cancer marker was normal but they are watching 5 lymph nodes. Three haven’t changed, but are pushing the 1 cm x1 cm size, a fourth has enlarged and is at the 1 cm x 1 cm mark and the 5th is 1 cm x 3 cm size and has enlarged in the past 6 months and a is at a size that bears warching. I go back in 2 months for a recheck.
    Yes, I’m scared. My health isn’t good I’ve had 4 surgeries for this and that in the past 4 years. I’m a disabled, housebound, shut in. I fear it is coming back and yes, I remember 6 1/2 years ago the “It is incurable. You will always have it.” That’s why my doctor told me she doesn’t like to use the word remission when I asked her years ago if I was in remission. A few days ago she said the cancer can go dormant. If this is cancer again and in lymph nodes, it can quickly go through the lymph system and is deadly. Oh yes, I’m angry that none of my “specialists” caught this! And you are right. When you are told you have stage 4 cancer and you will never be cured, you are angry, shocked, scared and you do experience the grief of your impending, but don’t know when, death. It feels like a death sentence. I don’t know what the next couple months will hold for me and I’m scared myself.

    Liked by 2 people

  8. Carol says:

    I am so sorry to hear of your diagnosis, Cancer is an evil all consuming disease, it is no respecter of sex, race, religion or age, it takes the elderly, the young parent and the children-even the very young. There are no words to change what is happening to you or to help you feel better, just know that you are in the thoughts and prayers of many and your written words will be enjoyed for years to come. I have seen the miracle of healing before, unfortunately we don’t have the ability to guarantee when or for whom it will happen, but it never hurts to ask.

    Liked by 2 people

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