December 14, 2017

I ain’t Kidneying Around: A Cancer Story.

Meet Kiki. She’s my left kidney.

On September 11th, 2017, Kiki made her exit from my body. I sent her on an all-expenses-paid lifetime vacation to anywhere but inside me. It wasn’t her fault, but she had to go.

She functioned perfectly. She was a super trooper, doing her filtering job with nary a complaint. I appreciate all she did and I told her so. “Thank you, Kiki. You’ve been an exemplary kidney. I love you.”

Kiki’s problem was she had a little beast stuck on her. It was called “non-invasive papillary urothelial carcinoma.” That’s short for cancer.

If cancer hasn’t touched you or someone you know and love, you are not breathing. If you have lived challenge-free in your life, I applaud you for being from another planet. We all have stuff, we all face mountains, right? No one gets off scott-free in the getting-the-sh*t-kicked-out-of-you department. I have friends who are living with cancer and loved ones I have sadly lost to this nasty trickster. Both of my parents have been challenged by it and have thankfully come out the other side. It seems everyone knows someone who has stared down the barrel of cancer.

I’m lucky. I got off easy. All I had to do was lose a kidney. (Wait, did she just say, “All I had to do was lose a kidney?”) Yup. No chemo, no biggie, just ’86 that organ right off the menu and return to life as normal (with maybe a little less salt).

By the way, in case you didn’t know, it’s from challenges like this that positive things emerge (not the salt part, obviously). For example, I got to learn a fancy new vocabulary word:

Nephrectomy; noun. The surgical removal of one or both kidneys.

The September 11th surgery date was ironic, don’t you think? It was already a date laden with fear, devastation, and loss. Lemonade-making wasn’t going to be easy, but I was sure going to try. “It’s laparoscopic! Robotic! And guess, what? You finally get to see the world from the outside,” I told Kiki.

I visualized my sweet little kidney, as above, with bags packed, ready for a lifetime adventure-filled vacay. I saw her as this innocent, but brave organ with a ton of empty suitcases, begging to be filled. In them, I would pile every ounce of negativity living in my mind, my heart, and hidden pockets of my world. Every bad thought, sh*tty relationship, and black cloud in my history would go right into her bags.

I would put my woes in her suitcases and give them the “heave-ho!” Easy peasy!

I pictured Kiki making her way to the airport like Beyoncé, a squillion suitcases trailing behind her, extra baggage fee be damned! Bad juju would have a one way ticket to anywhere, leaving me in the peaceful clear.

One night, during a Mozart meditation (Violin Concerto #3), it occurred to me that I could expand on this packing and unloading concept.

“Go big or go home,” I thought as I opened up the emotional dump to friends, family, and even strangers. I posted on social media: “Give us your panic, your fear, your worst. Kiki’s going to take it all away,” I said, and, amazingly, they did just that! One friend gave us her miscarriage, another, her crazy ex. We took someone’s panic of losing their parent, another’s bad dating history and fear of the world’s end. My friend, Lisa, asked us to take her “irritability,” which prompted me to remember to dump mine. Kiki was now filling up her Louis Vuittons with grief, fear, and misery, not just from me and my friends, but from people I didn’t even know!

The morning of my surgery came and I was super-charged with a higher purpose. It wasn’t just about curing my disease—I had a mission for others now, too. They were counting on me.

I had an inkling, but I didn’t realize how powerful opening Kiki’s bags to others would turn out to be. I had made it my mantra for a few weeks, meditating on clearing negative thoughts, memories, and disease right along with Kiki, so by the time I put my body down on the operating table, I felt no fear. Instead, excitement coursed through my body.

I thought, “When I wake up, we are all going to party like it’s 1999!”


Two months post-surgery and, though I am down one kidney, I am way up in the health stakes.

I picture Kiki sunning herself in the Greek Isles, climbing Mt. Everest, and surfing in Hawaii, having one heck of a good time. She took one for the team, but in my mind, she’s enjoying life as a world traveler. I often send her “thought” postcards, like “greetings from New York”—that kind of thing. It’s never quite “wish you were here,” but more like, “thinking of you.”

Kiki took a boat load of trash with her and left a big, empty, wonderful space, so I’m working on filling it: joy, love, music, writing, my family—you know, the good stuff.

Dexter, my right kidney, easily picked up the slack the minute Kiki left the building. It was like he was born for this. I talk to him every day and thank him for his heroism. And, whenever I feel any negativity start to creep in, I visualize a clear-out in Kiki’s honor, tell Dexter I love him, and remind him that, no matter what, we will always have each other’s flank.



Author: Catherine Porter
Artwork: Duncan Cork
Editor: Catherine Monkman
Copy Editor: Callie Rushton
Social Editor: Waylon Lewis



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