“Ms. Merdis Dickerson is a 43-year-old African American female who began experiencing abdominal pain in the spring of 2006 and was noted to have gallstones…The Pathology showed a clear cell renal cell carcinoma, grade II out of IV, which was confined to the kidney and measured 0.9 cm in greatest dimension.” — Excerpt from Duke Medical Records: Raleigh, North Carolina
These two sentences bookend a story that I wish owned a seamless ending. Sadly, it does not. I am still battling cancer.
As you might imagine, and I hope you never have to know firsthand, a cancer diagnosis can rock your world. Time stops. Colors fade. Sound mutes.
When this dreaded disease entered my world, I did what I do—I wrote about it. Here, I share with EBONY.com readers journal entries which represent the emotion, misconceptions, and pain associated with cancer diagnosis. I hope you will follow along as I share from the heart some of my most private moments. Nothing is wrapped up in a neat little bow. Sometimes I'm not even logical. My journey did not always embody pillar of strength courage—of course, most don’t. From the haunting first day through a seven-year journey to reclaim my body and redefine life, these were some of my rawest thoughts:
“How will I tell Kelsey? My baby girl will be 16 in June and I have to once again share news that mommy’s body has gone rogue. This time it’s cancer. Cancer is in my kidneys? What the hell did I ever do to my damn kidneys? They must be wrong. They ARE wrong, ‘cause I’m always right. (They gotta be wrong).This is a clinical error. I’ll call tomorrow and fix it. I can’t stop crying or cussing. I feel like a project called shit designed by a God who gave me all the broke down parts from the folks he “damned.”
I feel like a woman from a lesser God.
At this point, cussing can’t be a spiritual deal breaker. Cancer speaks death and I’m straight pissed. How am I going to tell Kelsey? What does this mean for her? We just got our single-parent, mommy-daughter footing again after the struggle, after the lean years, the trick moves to make ballet and North Carolina School of the Arts happen. I JUST finished grad school and love my new job. And now this? Cancer? Oh hell no. Me thinks NOT.
This is my thanks for having my ovaries, tubes, and cervix sucked out before age 30 to prevent cancer. And I still got it anyway, like “tag you’re it!” I didn’t even remember I had two kidneys before today and always confused "malignant" with "benign." Guess now I don’t need to remember ‘cause one is cancer and that’s what I got. I’mma play red light, green light, one-two-three, open my eyes, turn around real quick, and it’s gonna be gone. This is ‘bout to be somebody else’s nightmare.
I am a mother. A Mama. I’m the “go to” human. The cook in-residence. My daughter needs me! I have a sweet 16 party to plan, dance performances to witness, boyfriends to chase off, graduation to attend, weddings to plan, grand babies to spoil. I do not have time for THIS.
If I cry two more tears today… At work they think I'm on drugs or a drunk. Red eyes and weight loss; red eyes and weight loss. I always have to pee and stay in the bathroom. Guess what ya’ll: it's cancer. Now I really do need some crack and a stiff rum & coke.
How will I tell Kelsey? Is she gonna have to pick out burial clothes and watch me get lowered into the earth? Will a transplant save me? Who is a match? Kelsey’s kidney is probably the size of an Oreo. I don’t see nobody in the fam offering a spare organ. How will I tell mom? She needs to come clean about my real daddy. I might need his blood and his kidney. And his money.
I'm ashamed. What have I done to hurt myself and why am I always getting sick?! What is renal cell carcinoma and why am I the family sitting duck? This ain’t even the cool cancer. Breast cancer is the real chick disease. How stupid must you be to get cancer in your kidneys? What’s wrong with me? I’ve had some kind of dark cloud over me since I was 14. Now I’m 43.
I’ll never see 50.
I am a good person and do not deserve this.
I feel dirty and unclean. Seems like women who take care of themselves are healthy and women like me get plagued by disease. Do I need to inventory my sin? I’ll never be a writer worth her weight, I’ll never see Africa’s sun, see my baby dance or dry her tears. Hell, I’ll never just see clearly. I have cancer.
Penny Dickerson is a Florida-based independent journalist—and a survivor. Her work can be viewed at pennydickersonwrites.com.