Keeping Hope Alive

by R. C. Curtis

 In June of 2006, Kendra started experiencing great abdominal pain. A trip to the emergency room revealed that she was suffering from non-malignant fibroid tumors in her uterus  which she later found out were degenerating, thus causing the pain. We decided upon a partial hysterectomy which was performed in September of that year.

One afternoon, after Kendra had recovered from the operation, I came home and she said, “Honey, sit down.” A pathology report  had come back. They had found an endometrial sarcoma — a form of uterine cancer.  Kendra  handled the news much better than I.  A complete hysterectomy followed in November and then the endless rounds of chemo and surgical procedures.  But we always kept hope alive. At one point we thought we had it licked, with a PT Scan showing no detectable cancer cells.  But the cancer came back and moved up to her lungs.

In the course of two years, we ran through all the chemo options. Kendra was so brave and so committed to getting better.  She even went on a completely raw diet after doing extensive research.  But she had continued trouble breathing and a loss of appetite. On June 11, 2008, I took her to the oncologist to discuss putting her on a phase 1 clinical trial drug. However, after hearing how labored Kendra’s breathing was he said she needed to go straight to the ER.

We were in ER most of the day and then she was put in one hospital room and then another where she was monitored and had to wear a breathing mask. Several x-rays and a CT scan had already been taken and after studying these, the resident oncologist told us that the cancer had progressed to such a point (specifically surrounding her right lung but many other places as well) that all we could do was make her as comfortable as possible, put her on a morphine drip and wait. I can’t tell you how much that hurt, to hear there was no more hope. It felt like a sledgehammer blow to my gut.

I spent that Wednesday night with her and stayed with her all day and night the next day when she was transferred to a very nice room on the oncology floor. Her mother and stepfather flew out from Arizona  and others came to visit.  She was kept comfortable and was in and out of consciousness throughout Thursday. By Friday morning it was obvious the end was near as she was unresponsive and even with oxygen her breathing became quite poor. Her mother, stepfather and I were with her when she finally stopped breathing and was at peace. She died at twelve noon on Friday the thirteenth.  A week later we had a beautiful memorial for her at The Village Green under a favorite bowing oak tree.

Some people will tell you that a whole food, plant-based diet has the power to prevent and even reverse some diseases,  and there is ample evidence to back this up, most notably by Dr. T. Colin Campbell and Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn.  Some people will tell you that vegans don’t get sick.  But sometimes, even vegans get dealt a lousy hand.  And in my wife’s case I believe that out of control hormones and the fact that she worked briefly at nuclear power plants were a factor in her cancer.  I don’t tell her story to refute the health benefits of a vegan diet.  In fact, I believe if it weren’t  for maintaining such a diet,   Kendra would not have been able to withstand the ordeals she underwent.  Three months before she died Kendra was in full vigor as we hiked in Yosemite.

At the hospital when the resident oncologist broke the news to Kendra and then asked if she understood, my dear wife raised a finger, looked at me and rasped through her oxygen mask, “One day at a time.” At the time I thought she still believed there was hope that she would get better.  I now believe it was a message for me:  all we can do is live life one day at a time.  Kendra chose to live every day of her life as compassionately as she could and her  greatest wish was to live long enough to see all animals treated with compassion.  She wanted to see veganism become a part of the mainstream, not treated like something extremist.  She had hope that one day most people would understand that the principles of veganism  are worth aspiring to, that they reflect the best and most ethical in human nature.

Kendra believed in keeping hope alive.  I do too.  I grieved deeply over the loss of my life partner and still do, but I’ve also moved on.  I joined a grief support group and that helped immensely. My family has bolstered me more than I can say. But what has also helped as I venture through this new world without Kendra is the support of the vegan community, my other family.  I have met so many wonderful, compassionate, life-affirming people – though a good many of them are young enough to be my children.  But they keep me young!

Sometimes I regret that Kendra and I did not have a child.  Of course, I’m glad that we didn’t, considering what happened.  Still, wouldn’t it have been wonderful, raising a vegan child?  Someone who would grow up without ever contributing to animal suffering.  Someone who would carry on a tradition of true compassion for all beings.

Someone to keep hope alive.

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