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oh, mr brilliant.

By on Aug 5, 2012 | 59 comments

I finished my book on loss and grief last Friday, sent it to my publisher, and left the next day for Tybee Island. We go almost every summer, but usually just for three days; we decided to splurge this year and go for almost a week.

Given that I burn on contact with the sun, I go to hear the ocean, sit under an SPF 50+ umbrella, and watch the dots in the surf, three tiny dots that I love beyond all measure, bobbing on the surface of the sea laughing and paddling on their boogie boards.

We watched the Olympics, we cooked dinners, we spent hours on the beach every day, we laughed.

On Tuesday, John felt bad. Off.

On Wednesday night, he writhed in pain, waking me at 4:45am. We went to the beach that morning, and he played in the ocean with Tess and Emma as best he could. At 3:15pm, he went to a doctor who thought it might be an ulcer, but suggested John could get a CAT scan to put his mind at ease, and so he decided to do that, while I taught an online class from the cottage we had rented.

He came back from his scan, we cooked dinner, and walked on the beach at sunset.

At 8:36pm, he called for information on the scan.

And at that moment, as so many people have experienced, life changed.

Renal cell carcinoma.

And so the fork in the road comes when we don’t expect it. And whether we want the new direction or not, here it is.

It turns out that the pain John felt is unrelated to his cancer. But it is what sent him to the doctor, and why he had a scan that revealed a cancer we couldn’t have known about otherwise. I’m going to celebrate that chain of events, and the fact that we were on Tybee and a doctor named Jerry delivered this news in the most humane way possible. We cut short our vacation to get started on this new trip.

John has named his tumor Spot.

I have pulled on my Big Girl Warrior Panties and in a few days have learned more about kidneys and kidney cancer than one human should ever know. And I will keep on for as long as necessary. And then we will finish our vacation on Tybee and I will once again watch those three dots in the ocean and be overwhelmed by how much I love them.

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Update: While I believe that writing is my calling, it is not as secure a life choice as working in a job with benefits. And recently, that has meant not paying our $1400/month insurance premium–like so, so many other Americans. It is a broken, broken system. So John is uninsured for this journey. Dear friends are launching a fundraising page, and it will be online in a few days. If you can help in this effort by giving or sharing the information with your networks, please let Amy McCracken know at forjohnfptak@gmail.com. It is a source of shame that we are uninsured, and it is a shame we must overcome for John’s sake. It is a reality we share with so many. And my writing is a choice I would not change for anything, not even health insurance. We will figure this out because there is simply no other option. xoxo