Thursday, February 16, 2012

Kimberly, My Buffalo Soldier

A couple months after I was diagnosed and in the Valley of chemo, I happened upon a website that became a huge resource to me as I dealt with breast cancer.  It's called Y-Me, and during the summer of 2010, I visited that site every day, primarily participating in the Forums, or message boards.

How comforting, to be a newbie in Cancer Camp, and be able to talk online to other women from all over the country who were also facing a breast cancer diagnosis and treatment.  We talked about everything, from hair loss to boob loss, nothing was off limits.  For the first time, I did not feel like I was alone in this, and it was so helpful to be able to ask questions and get tips and real life wisdom from women who had been there done that!

It was a pivotal point for me, and for my blog.

One of the first Sisters who stepped forward to embrace me was Kimberly, from Buffalo, New York.  [Not to be confused with the other wonderful Kim's in my life who I have also mentioned on this blog - Kimberly from ACS, and Kim from Vallejo Relay!]  The Kimberly I refer to now was a Sister on the Y-Me forums, who replied to my posts there, and we exchanged several personal messages over my year in Cancer Camp.

At the ripe old age of 38, Kimberly had discovered a lump in her right breast, the day after her birthday in 2009.  She was diagnosed with breast cancer nine days later.  She and I did the same type of chemo, five months of it, a combination of 4 rounds of AC and 12 rounds of Taxol. We both had port problems.  We both decided to have a bilateral or double mastectomy, even though we had cancer in only one breast.  We were strangers who had a strong connection, united by our irreverent faithfulness and humor and desire to savor every single day.

In August of 2010, I was so inspired by her and what she wrote to me, I wanted to share it with all of you, and so I wrote a blog post about her.  

August 11, 2010

This is an excerpt from that post, where I had asked Kimberly how do you stay hopeful, what do you fear and grieve?  This was her reply.

Optimism and hope come from a place in my soul, that no doubt is connected to faith. I have never been overly religious, do not go to church every week, but always had a private spiritual connection with God. I am Roman Catholic - but also believe in angels and saints and signs and the power of prayer.

When you go through cancer, you hold your faith near. I always believed; but now I KNOW. 

I have put my life in God's hands now. It's easier that way. It has given me the opportunity to continue to live each day as it comes and enjoy life's small miracles. The laughter of my nieces and nephews, family and friends, sunrises and sunsets, and to truly appreciate and understand what is important in this life. It is a gift. There is a beauty and freedom that comes from living life this way. This journey has also solidified my marriage. If we can weather this storm and come out the other side - truly appreciating and loving each other - what a beautiful gift for our marriage and life. There is NOTHING we can't get through.

In my private moments, I grieve feeling "invincible" and assuming I will live until I am 89. I have moments that when I look at my scars, I think, "What the hell just happened to me?" The dark side of cancer is that if you let it, it will steal your soul. 

The physical symptoms of cancer are treatable. Almost prescriptive. Surgery, chemotherapy, radiation, etc. But - the emotional and psychological toll is never really discussed by your doctors. And shouldn't be - as they are not qualified psychologists. They treat symptoms of disease. But, cancer makes you look over your shoulder. Cancer tries to invade your peace. And not just yours, but tries to steal it from your family too. Perhaps what I am most upset about - is the worry it has put on my husband. There are times when I look at him, the emotional toll and fear of losing me is there. I have accepted my disease and will fight it.......but, sometimes I can see fear and sadness in his eyes. 
Each day when I get out of bed - I smile. I have another day! What will I do with it today? Who can I help? Who can I make smile? You have the choice everyday how you will live with cancer. Each morning, I choose to live. I choose not to feel sorry for myself. I choose to laugh. And if the darkness of cancer tries to steal that from me - a few tearful moments, then on with my day. I will NOT let cancer take away my peace. It will NOT take away my soul, or faith, or love. Fuck you cancer. 

Just prior to my surgery, she sent this:

Best wishes on your upcoming BLM - you will do just fine. It takes a little time getting used to them being gone, but they are dangerous and killing you

Congrats on finishing chemo my friend - you did it!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

I hated chemo, I hated losing my hair and boobs.  Kimberly helped me see it differently.  "That shit is going to save your life" and those boobs have to go!  That was the first time I thought of it like that, and later thought of Kimberly when I found this fabulous T-shirt online.

In the painful days after my bilateral, and when I got the pathology report that the chemo had not completely obliterated the cancer as I had hoped, she had this to say:

I feel the same way you do when I hear news that is disheartening; I take a day to "process." That's what I call the "curl up on the couch, eat dark chocolate, watch Lifetime Movie Network movies, snuggle with my doggies and kitties, and call some of my best breast cancer survivor friends - but ignore all other calls" day. It is totally cool that you do that. We are all entitled to feel a little sorry for ourselves. We deserve it. WE JUST HAD FUCKING CANCER.

Then - after my processing day - I snap out of it, as you will. You and I are alike. We bounce back. We cry and laugh and laugh. You'll be fine. I love you. Maybe wine will help?????????? Wish I didn't live half way across the country: I'd be at your door with wine and taking vicodin;) 

I cannot say enough about what our correspondence did for me, at a time when I needed so badly for someone to really understand what I was going through, and needed help navigating this thing.  Kimberly was one of those beaming lights on my path.  How strange, to have someone so important on your journey, and yet you've never heard their voice, never seen their face.  It was the beginning of many friendships made, and what I affectionately called "The Sacred Order of the Sisterhood of Cancerous Breasts."

When I first started the blog it was a way to talk myself through it, leave some kind of legacy for my boys to know me in a different way, just in case the worst came true.  I was also hoping it would help somebody somewhere out there.  With the help of many Sisters on the Y-Me forums, readership of my blog exploded late summer of 2010.  So many Sisters, like Kimberly, arrived to help me.  For the first time, I realized how much my blog helped the Sisters who follow me, by chronicling diagnosis and treatment, its losses, the grueling challenges, what kept me going and moving into survivorship.

Every Sister fighting breast cancer needs other Sisters to cheer her, comfort her, hold her hand, wipe away tears, and raise her up when hopefulness is grounded by the reality of cancer.  I loved getting Kimberly's messages and praise, it meant a lot coming from her.  She was one tough cookie.

I am so proud of you Girl, you looked the Devil in the face and made him run.

1 in 8 of U.S. women will face that Devil in their lifetime, and despite all our advances in early diagnosis and treatment, 40,000 die every year.  We all do our best to take care of ourselves and remain hopeful, but the truth is, this shit and what can happen is real.  

With a heavy heart I am devastated to tell you that my Sister Kimberly passed away last Sunday night, at the age of 40, two years and four months after her diagnosis.

Kimberly, you will never know how much you helped this girl with the muck of Cancer Camp.  Oh how your sense of humor and hopefulness was good good medicine for me.  You also helped me realize the power and importance of my blog, and giving a voice to this shit.  You showed me by example how all of us Sisters who have walked in this Valley need to stick together, and reclaim what cancer can never take from us.  Just ahead of me on the path, you reached for me, and in doing so, inspired me to reach behind for Sisters who follow after me.  

Kimberly, my Buffalo Soldier, I will never forget you, I love you, you changed me, you inspired me and made me laugh my ass off.  In this year's ACS Relay for Life, serving as a Hero of Hope, you are MY HERO honey.

You are my HERO.

When I walk in and speak at Relay's, I will wear your memory on my heart, and light a luminary to honor you.  I bow to you Sister.

Thank you thank you thank you for how you lived and loved and spoke and moved through this world, and how every day you were committed to fight back and reclaim your life and happiness and well being.  Thank you for how you empowered other Sisters to live as you did, "the beauty and the freedom" of savoring each day with gratitude, never taking for granted all the small miracles.

Peace to you my Sister.

It is my hope your family knows what a blessing and light you were to all of us Sisters.

I carry you with me Kimberly
my Buffalo Soldier
and will look for you
in the stars.

2/23/12 Update

For those of you interested, many of you "Sisters" that Kimberly touched, you can also visit the Canisius college tribute to her, and finally see her beautiful face with her Husband Matt.

Cancer stings. Love is the salve.


Anonymous said...

t7You are to me what Kimberly is to you.
God bless you, Deb.
I love you.

Sheree said...

I am so sorry for the loss of your Cancer Blog Sister. They say that everyone comes into your life for a reason. God Blessed you with Kim for support and encouragement. As I am sure you are for her. Love you my friend. Sheree'

rphathome said...

Debbie- Thank you so much for posting this link on the funeral home site. I have been trying to find your blog since Kim's passing and I could not remember the website. She told me about it back in 2010 and it made me smile when I originally read it and I knew she was going to fight like hell to beat this beast. She had been coming to my house in Pittsburgh ~ every 3-5 weeks for the past 9 (?) months or so to receive treatment and an experimental med at Magee Women's hospital. She was so grateful to be recieving this investigational med (Parb inhibitor) and so proud that she was part of this groudbreaking trial that was going to help other women breast cancer who had brain mets. We have been friends since Middle School and I feel so blessed that I was able to spend some amazing time with her and her husband, Matt (who is equally amazing). It is hard to believe that she is gone and I will cherish all of the time that we had recently to reconnect and laugh like the old days. She touched so many lives and it was wonderful to see the outpouring of love and support at her service. If you have links to any other of her blog posts, I would love to have them. They are so inspirational and uplifting. Prayers to you for your health and thank you again. Tina Bower

writergirldreams said...

Tina, thank you so much for coming here and posting a comment. It meant alot to me. I am relieved to know someone in Kim's close circle was able to read my tribute to her. I hope more friends and family of hers will find it too. I have a lot of regret that we only corresponded, I really regret we didn't talk on the phone. She gave me her number but we always seemed to just send personal messages. I regret that. I had no idea things had taken such a turn for her, and it makes me very sad I was not there for her as she was for me. Very sad. I went back through our messages and cried and laughed again, I just don't feel I've done justice to how much she helped me get my big girl panties on! I am so sorry for your loss, how blessed you were to have your visits with her. Thank you for your kindness and generosity leaving me a comment, thank you so much. God bless you.

Desert pirate, awwww, thank you Lady!! Love u too!

And thank you Sheree, thank u. You are a real doll.

Anonymous said...

Great post, Deb. I am sure Kim is loving this from heaven.
xoxo....Laurie (2boysmom)

Anonymous said...

Wow. Thank you! And that was Kim!Always hopeful, inspirational and amazing. I also have been friends with Kim for 30 years and what a blessing her friendship was. It has been a difficult week. That was just like her to offer help to others and ask for nothing in return. She did not let on to many how sick she was. That was just who she was. Thank you so much for sharing! Hearing her words agin has been helpful. And f@@k you Cancer! You did not win! You did not take away her optimism hope, faith and love! Blessings & health to you! I am so glad that she had this wonderful group of Sisters to share her journey. Thank you for all you did for her. Michelle

writergirldreams said...

Michelle, thank you so much for coming here and posting a comment. It means so much to me. When I first heard of Kimberly's passing, I felt so alone in my grief for her. It really helped me to leave a note on her online funeral guest book, and I so hoped her friends and family would find my blog tribute to her. Thank you thank you for filling in more of the pieces for me, it's been hard not knowing. I've gone to the Canisius college website and read their tribute to her, and finally see a photo of her, and her beloved Matt. She was beautiful. Inside and out. I hope Matt is finding comfort in knowing how very much she loved him and believed that despite all its losses, cancer gave them an opportunity to love as big as it gets. Please Michelle, hug Matt for me, and let him know when I spoke at an American Cancer Society event last night, I talked about Kimberly. This year I Relay in her memory. I've already started my luminaria for her. Thank you Michelle and Tina for coming here. Thank you.

writergirldreams said...

Let me clarify something, cancer doesn't give anything except loss and heartache and there is not a damn good thing about cancer, but every challenge and tragedy in our lives gives us an opportunity to choose how we will deal with it. In the biggest storm of my life, I found my direction, back to my faith, towards even greater connectedness and
gratitude in my life. I also became part of the greatest Sorority on the planet, and divinely mentored to help other Sisters the way my Sister Kimberly helped me.

Kimberly said...

You know I'm a quote girl. So I'm going to share another one with you. "To live in ones heart is to never die." Thomas Campbell

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