My middle sister Natalie is a praying fool. She comes to North Carolina hauling a huge heap of hope and plenty Jesus. Sometimes she’s spiritually over the top. It gets on my nerves. But not now. I’m so emotionally drained I need her entire King James arsenal. She keeps me grounded. Reminds me of how important it is to have faith. Keep faith. Speak faith. I already know that, but keep getting side-swapped by six alphas: c-a-n-c-e-r. Silly word shoulda never been more than a zodiac sign.
Nat takes me to Wake Forest Baptist Hospital for appointments. We view more MRI slides that make no sense. My kidneys look like two wads of grey chewing gum with holes in the middle. The white coats point to tumors. Some might be cysts. We follow along looking wide-eyed and stupid. I can’t focus. Why’s it so complicated? Just fix me. I want to live.
Dr. Assimos finally recommended just a left nephrectomy. Not a double. JUST? The last thing I want is to be cut open again. I’m really more worried about another scar. Guess I’m a vain weirdo. To me my stomach looks like a jagged jigsaw puzzle. Hear a nick. There a keloid. Some of my scars even have names. Long line down the middle is “Kelsey’s Exit.” The c-section debacle. Now another scar? I’mma call her “Cancer’s crook.” Feel like I’m being lifestyle robbed. Naked I feel like a freak of nature. Who’s gonna want a scarred up black chick missing organs and ribs? Nobody’s son I know.
For reasons that fit in everybody’s schedule but mine, surgery is on my 43rd birthday. The family is here cramped together on Chapel street. It’s tense. My parents are nervous as hell. I’m just flat scared. Every day I Google “nephrectomy.” What quality of life will I have after this?
My big sister Linda is here. She is Army strong. A solid mediator. My Shero. When Nat isn’t speed dialing Jesus, Linda runs interference with James and Ethel who argue and smoke cigarettes like two married chimneys. My folks think opening windows rids smoke. What part of cancer don’t they get? Put the damn cigarettes out.
I got stage II renal cell carcinoma from growing up in their tobacco house. Guess I could’ve got it from genetics too. Who knows? Bottom line is I got it, and I’m pissed. Urology keeps asking how long I’ve been smoking. “I don’t smoke.” (You’re lying); “I DON’T smoke.” (You’re lying). Talk about taking one for the team.
My parents love me. I love them too. I love my whole family, but I’m ‘bout to lose an organ over a bad habit that ain’t even mine. All these medical bills are definitely mine. Hell, I can’t afford to live. Health Insurance from the Jersey job ended. Mom and dad are paying almost $800 a month for my COBRA benefits. They took over my car note; my rent. Got a loan for Kelsey’s tuition too. Cancer could care less about my poverty or plight. My family straight carries me.
I feel like a great big dollar bill burden to everyone. The youngest daughter who’s always sick.
Surgery went well. Somewhere between my being stoned and discharge, we all forgot crucial instructions. Within days of being home my incision is infected. They cut me back open. A gaping divide of meaty red flesh on my left side is exposed. Somebody has to pack it with gauze til it closes. All my somebody’s have to fly or drive back home. Now I’m a mercy patient. Some days Kelsey packs my wound. Linda says it’s too gross.
A home nurse comes. I fire her. They send a different nurse. I fire her too.
Finally, my aunt from Jacksonville comes. Gloria Mervin is a retired nurse. A saint. A collard green cooking radical. For two weeks she nurtures me, my vomit, and my attitude’s venom.
I’m a lousy patient. A real nightmare. Some would say a bitch. I’m blessed though.
I have a praying team of family and friends who tolerate me. Together we beat cancer’s first phase. Within three months I get an incisional hernia. This time general surgery cuts me back open again. Accidentally puncture my diaphragm. Idiots. I’m in ridiculous pain and eat pain pills like sweet tarts. Now I’m Jimi Hendrix in a daily “Purple Haze.” I fall in love with being stoned.