by Katherine Everett
“Kath, it’s kidney cancer.” Jeff was on the Dumbarton Bridge, returning to work after his CT scan. His urine had developed a brownish tinge that was not going away, so the doctor had ordered the imaging. “They say the tumor is the size of a grapefruit. It has to come out. They have scheduled me for surgery in a week and a half.”
The idea had lurked in the back of our minds, but we just said no, it can’t be cancer. Jeff swam with the South End Rowing Club, braving the chilly San Francisco Bay—without a wet suit—every weekend. During the week, he swam with his Masters club at the local pool. And during the summers, he backpacked in the Sierras with his mother, brother, and sister.
A loving dad to our two children, Jeff worked hard, played hard, and saved our money for the future. He believed it was good to prepare for whatever lay ahead. We did not live frugally, but we tended to postpone big purchases and just buy what we needed. Jeff kept track of things he wanted to buy and places he wanted to go on what he called his “life’s to-do list.”
After getting a quick second opinion, we decided to go forward with the surgery; the doctor told us the cancer was stage III and its type was aggressive. It would not respond to chemo or radiation—surgery was the only cure. They removed the entire kidney and the surrounding lymph nodes.
I set up a CaringBridge site just before the surgery, and wrote updates about Jeff’s condition every day. It felt so good to get my thoughts and fears off my chest and reach out for support. Soon word spread, and we got hundreds of wonderful responses from friends and family who wished him well and related their own cancer stories. As Jeff lay in his hospital bed, he had me read them out loud. The caring in the messages was key to his strong recovery from the surgery.
That was a year and half ago. Now our family is getting to know and love a new Jeff. He gets out his “to-do” list and regularly checks things off. We plan our adventures six months in advance, using up all those frequent flyer miles saved over the years. Next in the queue are trips to Salt Lake City (to visit our son), Rome (spring break with our daughter), and New York (to see a musical). Jeff is lucky to work for an international company; last year he went to Finland, India and Switzerland. While abroad, he made sure he experienced the local customs (such as swimming in ice water and playing cricket) and ordered the strangest food on the menus—just to try it. Between those trips, we went to Aruba for some rest and relaxation. He had always dreamed of going there to try windsurfing – check! He is back to swimming, and has even planned a trip to swim the straits of Gibraltar. Some day he would like to swim the English Channel.
We regularly go out to dinner. Jeff reads the reviews each weekend and makes plans. When he read that one of the finest restaurants in the world is in Chicago, he made reservations—even though we had to fly halfway across the country. The experience was amazing. It was a 26-course meal (with very small servings), each with a wine pairing and custom serving dishes. The presentation was as magnificent as the taste, and the meal lasted the entire evening. Jeff did not look at the bill when it came—he just covered his eyes and signed!
Is he still a big saver? I think “Hell no!” is an appropriate response. That’s okay.
One item has been on his list for quite some time, though I never took it seriously. But last month when he asked again, I thought, “What am I waiting for?” We are now planning to renew our vows in Las Vegas on our 22nd anniversary this June—with Elvis as the minister!
We don’t know how long we have with Jeff feeling healthy. The doctor says not to even think about “cured” for three years. So if we’re not traveling, we always make the most out of each weekend—another chance for Jeff to get out his list and fulfill an aspiration. So far, the live-for-the-moment strategy is working beautifully. Recently, we celebrated a clear CT scan at Scoma’s, our favorite seafood restaurant in San Francisco. Expressing the relief and happiness that we both felt, Jeff raised his glass: “To the next six months!”
Bio: Katherine Everett is a human resources consultant. She lives, works, and knits in Oakland, CA with her husband, daughter, and two cats. She is married to Jeff Everett, a system engineer, who was recently diagnosed with cancer.