JULY 2006

Kelsey took the cancer news well. No drama; no tears. Turns out she’s more mature than I am, but thinks I’m some kinda superwoman who can change the world. Mama can’t fix this one though. Cancer is huge and hovering over me like a vicious killer clad in a trench coat. Seems like my whole life has become a horror flick playing out in slow motion and I’m the star. Thought God was my casting agent?  He’s off his game ‘cause this role sucks.

Everything is too new. It’s just too much transition. Thanks cancer crisis, I quit my job and left New Jersey. Suddenly, I’m in Winston-Salem. I miss being so close to New York. Feelin’ guilty and selfish for even thinking that. I’m now with my daughter. Nothing is more important.

Kelsey talked me into calling about a house for rent across the street from North Carolina School of the Arts. Sometimes her optimism wears me thin. I tried to tell her unemployed Black folks with cancer and bad credit don’t just move into houses. Plus it was a rickety eyesore surrounded by weeds. The owner was a great big ‘ole White man in overalls named Frank. Took one look at him and thought, “I betcha he has two good damn kidneys.”  I was mad at everybody on planet Earth that didn’t have kidney cancer. I wrote Big Frank two checks. One of ‘em even had a future. He turned that Chapel street shack into a fierce ‘lil abode. But it was a blessing that made me sad. I feel pressured to be Kelsey’s happy mom. Strong and normal.  In Jersey I could at least hide. Now I have to act like I’m not scared shitless and full-blown depressed. I am both. I take day- showers to privately cry. I take Zoloft and feel like a zoned-out zombie with no libido.

I’m edgy, I’m defensive, and I’m real sick of phone calls with questions like, “How you holding up?”  

How the hell ya’ll think?  I have cancer. What you got─calluses?

I’m still sore from April’s surgery. Three months and I still ache. Woulda been nice to take six weeks off. Couldn’t afford it. Doctors don’t seem to get that I ain’t in their tax bracket. Rich folks recuperate. Single Black women with kids return to work.

Me and Dr. Crump thought gall bladder surgery was a good plan, but I knew this belly pain was different. I just knew it. I ignored warning signs. I am too smart to have been so dumb. Thought my back hurt from moving and packing. Thought the blood in my urine was from the  surgery. Thought the weight loss was from stress and thought that CT scan was just gonna turn out to be wrong.

Guess I shoulda said something, but who wants to discuss blood coming from your “lady place,” even if it is in your piss?  Blood below the waist is every woman’s right to remain mute.           

Now I could kick myself.

I now have a new zip code and a new doctor. He’s blunt and he never smiles. Every patient in the whole urology office is white. Grey-haired, feeble men wearing Haggar slacks with urine catheters creeping down one pant leg. Place looks like the last pit stop before death. I’m 43 years-old. I shouldn’t even be a damn urology patient.  

Doc showed me my MRI. Tumors are in both kidneys. I may need a double nephrectomy. The cancer would be cut out of my kidneys along with the resection of ribs. I will probably need dialysis. The end.

That’s it?

Well that ain’t how they tell ya on television. I called my mom and she hollered, ‘Oh Lawd you gon’ need two kidneys AND some ribs?”  Me and my family are some ignorant negroes. We were all confused and overwhelmed. Nobody knew a thing about kidney cancer. In Florida we smoke ribs on the grill. That’s all we knew. It was so crazy. So bizarre. And so sudden.  

My sister Natalie is flying down from Maryland. She and Kelsey will have to become my voices of reason. I have simply shut down.

Penny Dickerson is a Florida-based independent journalist—and a survivor. Her work can be viewed at pennydickersonwrites.com.