Welcome to the team, Crosby Reynolds Kennett!
After Chip was diagnosed, people kept telling me I was “made for this.” Chip told me I was made for this. I even adopted this phrase and started telling people I was made for this.
Well, after Chip’s prognosis, I started to think, what the fuck? I was MADE for this?? I had a starring role in a really, really bad Lifetime movie. I was made to have a three year old son, to be within weeks of my due date and for my husband to be diagnosed with terminal Stage IV cancer? I kindly began to take offense to this.
I mentioned this to my friend, Ginny Johnson, one night, and her take on it was that it meant I was made for Chip. That I was the perfect spouse for him. Hmmmm…I still needed to chew on that one.
Anybody who knows me very well knows I do tend to sweat the small things. If Joe drops a banana slice on the kitchen floor, I am immediately on my hands and knees with a wet paper towel cleaning it up. If something gets thrown into the dryer with a stain on it causing it to set, well, I can truly lose it. If a bag of chips is opened from the wrong end, I can’t eat them. If a pillow is out of place on the couch or the throw blanket is on the floor, I can’t go to bed at night until everything is back in its proper place. It’s a problem but to quote the great Ke$ha, “We R who we R.”
On the flipside, I can handle, and I mean REALLY handle, the big things. I am cool as a cucumber at my what is supposed to be a stressful job. I can schedule for the Senator with my eyes closed. Joe can tumble out of the back of the car and crack his head open on the corner of a concrete curb, and I never break a sweat. Our connection through Addis Ababa, Ethiopia en route from Bamako, Mali to Arusha,Tanzania can suddenly turn into an unexpected overnight stay, and I embrace the adventure.
So, when Chip was diagnosed with cancer, I pulled up my big girl panties, channeled my inner Steel Magnolia and decided to make the best of it. What other choice did I really have? As one cancer victim wrote to us, “I can’t always control my circumstances, but I can control the way I experience these circumstances.” Wow. That’s pretty powerful stuff.
People keep telling me how strong I am, and I do appreciate the compliment, but I am just being the person my parents taught me to be. I also think my Southern roots are coming into play. I may not have learned to pump gas until Jenny Hassell taught me how my freshman year at Ole Miss, but Joe Boyd sure taught me how to change a flat tire and check my oil. I can barely choke down a beer, but I sure can take a single malt or bourbon down neat. I may not know how to cook it, but I’ve got a really good shot and could probably bag one and bring it home if I needed to.
So, I guess everyone was right. I WAS made for this, because cancer, you sumbitch, you have messed with the wrong Steel Magnolia. Game on.
Since genetic mutations can often occur with adenocarcinoma, Chip’s test results were sent to The Mayo Clinic for further analysis. The oncologists had both laid out similar treatment plans for us based on various scenarios–intravenous chemo if there were no mutations at all, approved drugs if it were this particular mutation, what clinical trial was available if it were this mutation and if it happened to be the KRAS mutation, well, that was just not going to be good at all. At this time, Chip is not eligible for radiation or surgery, because the cancerous tumors are widespread throughout his abdomen.
After several long days, the results finally came back, and it turns out Chip has a genetic cell mutation which affects 2% of adenocarcinoma victims called ALK translocation. It’s all relative these days, but we were ecstatic with this news, because both oncologists had said there was an approved and effective drug called Crizotinib or Xalkori to treat this particular mutation. 2%. I always knew Chip was special.
We were desperate to start treatment, so we were elated when Dr. B, the oncologist at Johns Hopkins University, e-mailed us over the weekend, the day of Joe’s 3rd birthday party, indicating how great this news of the ALK mutation was. She was going ahead and submitting the prescription to the pharmacist so the authorization process with our insurance company could begin, and asked us to come in to see her in a couple of days for blood work and an EKG and to pick up the prescription. Hallelujah! The ball was once again in motion. In the meantime, the tumor in Chip’s eye was starting to cause him significant pain and he had undergone his first of what will be monthly bone strengthening infusions, which ended up making him quite ill for a couple of days.
On Thursday, November 15th, after spending another full day at Hopkins, Chip popped his first pill at home that evening. Just for good measure, we decided to celebrate by washing it down with a shot of Pappy Van Winkle’s. Within hours, he was throwing up, and it was another long, long night in the Kennett household, but Chip is slowly adjusting to the medication. The pain in his eye has fully subsided, so we are hopeful this means his body is responding to the treatment.
Xalkori is considered to be a “smart” drug. Intravenous chemo poisons all cells–healthy and unhealthy ones. Smart drugs only target the cancerous cells. They basically open the receptors or “doors” to the diseased cells, and allow the poison to travel in and eat the cancer.
Chip takes his medication at 8:30 AM and PM each day. Every single time, I visualize those little doors opening up, the poison traveling in and EATing the cancer. Eating it all up. Isn’t that just the best visual??
The wait for the pathology report to come back was bittersweet. Ignorance was bliss to a certain degree, but we also desperately needed to know what type of cancer Chip had in order to start fighting it. Dr. D had urged us to stay off the internet, but we were so anxious and wondering what type of cancer to “hope” for yet we managed to refrain.
Chip’s best friend from childhood, Chris Smith, affectionately called “Smitty,” flew in over the weekend to accompany us to our appointments. On November 5th, we met with Dr. D to learn the pathology. Chip’s exact diagnosis is non-smokers, non-small cell lung cancer subtype adenocarcinoma – which basically equals not good. There is currently no cure for this type of cancer, and it most commonly appears in 55-65 year old adults, so WHY Chip has this at age 31 years old, we’ll just never know. Many have asked, and he has no family history, does not smoke, and it is not from mold or exposure to a harmful, chemical substance.
I once again went into a state of shock. How could there be NO cure?? This is 2012! We were riding home just stunned when Chip finally broke the silence and said, “You know? NOTHING has changed since my diagnosis. I still have the exact same cancer in my body as I did last week, and I have the exact same reasons and will to live, so let’s just fight this with everything we’ve got.” He was exactly right. Once again, Chip was the one providing me with the strength and confidence I needed.
So, the three of us headed to the nicest restaurant in Old Town, Restaurant Eve, for lunch. The lunch special included your choice of cocktail called “Bittersweet” or a glass of wine called “Wrongo Dongo.” That, coupled with the poor server enthusiastically asking us how we were doing that day, provided us with the comic relief we needed. We were SO close to inviting him to pull up a chair, but we decided to spare him. Then, we got in the car to go pick up Joe and this awful Brad Paisley song came on the radio that started out with the lyrics, “You’re not supposed to say the word ‘cancer’ in a song.” I can’t make this up! Laughter definitely turned out to be the best medicine that day.
The next day, which was known to the rest of the world as Election Day, we saw an oncologist, Dr. C at Virginia Hospital Center, and another oncologist, Dr. B at Johns Hopkins University, to further discuss Chip’s prognosis and treatment options. In addition, within adenocarcinoma, we learned there are often genetic cell mutations, so Chip’s test results had already been sent to The Mayo Clinic for further analysis. Since Chip was still feeling totally fine, both oncologists agreed it was better to wait and start the appropriate treatment than to just simply start chemo. So, the wait began again. We quickly learned this whole new cancer language over a 24-hour period and were repeatedly told Chip is otherwise a young, fit and “healthy” person with no other medical conditions, so he should respond well to treatment. Since Chip’s age and diagnosis remains such an anomaly, there are really no statistics out there for him. Everything they quoted us was for 55-65 year olds. So even though it was harsh to hear three separate times there is no cure, we were also told this is our path to chart. Sort of like promises, we believe prognoses were meant to be broken.
After a nine-hour day of driving and meeting with oncologists, we were all exhausted. Chip asked if he could use my iPhone. The next thing I knew, Kelly Clarkson’s “Stronger” was BLASTing in the car. The three of us started to laugh and sing “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” at the top of our lungs while dancing as hard as we could with our seatbelts on. I kind of like to think we looked like an SNL skit going down the road that day. We were so caught up in our new theme song that we actually drove right past our house, but Smitty flipped a bitch and we safely got home. I have never watched American Idol and am not the biggest fan of her music in general; however, looking back, Kelly has never failed me. She and I actually go way back as “Since U Been Gone” was my anthem about eight or nine years ago. I am happy to welcome the power of Kelly Clarkson back in my life.
Chip and I spent those first couple of days trying to wrap our heads around his diagnosis, call our parents, siblings and close friends with the news and try to get a game plan together. We knew Chip had cancer and it was aggressive, but we did not yet know what kind of cancer he had. In order for treatment to be prescribed, the doctors had to learn the pathology of his cancer, so we went back to Virginia Hospital Center a couple of days later for a biopsy. They removed a piece of bone from Chip’s hip and sent it off to the lab.
While waiting on the pathology report to come back, we grew stronger in our resolve to fight, and Chip asked me to start writing about this. Specifically, to start writing a blog. He liked my voice. He liked my attitude. He thought it would be a good outlet for me, but more than anything, he wanted our kids to see how their parents chose to handle life when this shit sandwich was suddenly served up on a silver platter. Wow. It was a pretty tall ask.
I once thought of becoming a travel writer. I still aspire to be the female Anthony Bourdain, and no, I do not mean Samantha Brown. I mean the female version of Anthony Bourdain. I do have the mouth of a sailor and the love of travel, so I figure I am halfway there already.
I once entertained the idea of becoming a food critic and writer as I love to eat and share my unsolicited opinion. At one point, after surviving a difficult time, I even fancied myself knowledgeable enough to write a self-help book titled Sometimes You Have to Ride on Gravel about the importance of self-discovery, but Katie left the Today Show and then Oprah went off the air, so I lost the motivation to follow through. I mean, I know Oprah has her OWN network now, but raise your hand if you can actually find that anywhere on tv.
After I got pregnant with Joe, many friends urged me to write a blog about my pregnancy and motherhood, but seriously, who wants to read about constipation and cracked nipples?? Ewwwww…not me. I honestly thought blogs were for SAHMs to brag about their DD and DS or their latest DIY project. I don’t make pancakes in the shape of Mickey Mouse. I don’t “pin” things. I doubt too many would be interested in re-pinning my Old El Paso hard n soft taco kit or frozen Indian dishes from Trader Joe’s. I don’t even know how to iron and choose not to clean my own toilets. I have no idea how to get a rust stain out of the bottom of my bathtub.
I am just your standard MILF in NoVA striving to achieve that perfect work/life balance and squeeze in a couple of sessions a month at the Pilates studio along the way. I am the most irreverent believer you’ll ever meet, and I am a female cusser. I have been since the 4th grade and am not ashamed to admit it.
So, me, now writing my very own blog. About our life with CANCER of all things. Well, here goes. The Team Kennett blog promises to be candid and informative about our walk and decision we have made to live with cancer.
Anthony Bourdain’s final episode of “No Reservations” aired on November 5th with this final quote:
“If I’m an advocate for anything, it’s to move. As far as you can, as much as you can. Across the ocean, or simply across the river. The extent to which you can walk in someone else’s shoes or at least eat their food, it’s a plus for everybody. Open your mind, get up off the couch, move.”
I believe this advice is applicable to life in general.