Living in the Moment: Kerry Clifford and her 'Cancered Plans'


Submitted 8 months ago
Created by
Tom Haushalter

Kerry Clifford says you don't have to be in mourning around her. 

As if she isn't weighed down enough by the shifting prognoses and painful realities of her stage 4 colorectal cancer, she'd rather spend the time she has left—that any of us has left—in active appreciation of the gifts of her community, her family and friends, and her animals. Definitely her animals.

Her blog, Cancered Plans, debuted a few weeks ago on DailyUV and quickly gripped our hearts (at times mournfully, yes, but more often just plain humorously) with stories of courage and perseverance on her cancer journey. A kind of raw, wry spirit animates Kerry's writing, and so I thought a Google Chat would be the best way to capture the same in conversation. 

Tuesday, March 27, 2018 – 10:10 AM

Tom Haushalter
Without sounding too patronizing, how are you feeling today?

Kerry Clifford
I'm feeling pretty good. The nausea has subsided a lot in the last couple of days. Although I still have my moments.

Tom
How does the break from the cruds change how you face the day?

Kerry
Well, the timing is good because I have a pretty big work project that I've been putting off, and my deadline is the end of the month. So I've been trying to get that done as much as possible during the break.

Tom
What's the project? 

Kerry
My teaching license is up for renewal. So I have to gather up all of my professional development hours from the last 7 years, with descriptions for each, and enter them into the Agency on Education database. There's a lot of scanning, saving, tabbing, and uploading going on. My cats are VERY interested in the project, the scanning part most of all. They're pretty lousy administrative assistants. 

Tom
Cats are generally unmanageable.

Kerry
They're sweet little pains in the arse.

Tom
But they have other strengths, of course. Curious to know, what have been your biggest sources of strength over the past couple years of combat with cancer?


Kerry
Gosh, these pets, for sure. They're perfect for when you don't want to be alone, but you don't want to talk to anyone and you don't want anyone to hear you wail/moan/throw little fits.

Also, my parents have been pillars around here. Never a question if something needs to be done. I have to be careful what I say, because if they hear me planning to do something, they might just jump in and do it for me. 

And then there's this town. My church, my kids' sports teams and their families, and a few other special parent-friends that I couldn't live without (not quite literally, but almost).

Tom
This town. Good old Windsor. I can only imagine how everything one hopes for in a small community is deepened and affirmed through the kind of (shall we say) life event you're in the middle of. You've been living here how long?

Kerry
I moved to Windsor in May of 2001. Just before the world changed forever (9/11/01) and my little family began (10/30/01). It was a heck of a year. So much of what has made me who I am has happened here in this town.

Once I got my diagnosis, I felt like the town that surrounded me just wrapped around me that much more tightly—in a good way. People did everything from starting to cut my kids' hair for free (sending them home with eggs after each visit) to filling my freezer with meals that will last us into my kids' college years. 

Tom
Um, eggs at the barber shop? 

Kerry
I know. Photographer, egg farmer, barber. Cassie is a LOT of things.


Tom
What's maybe the one thing about Windsor (besides its best-in-state basketball programs) that people should know?

Kerry
There is a lot of artistic talent in this town. Coffeehouses and Open Mics are generally packed with an eclectic lineup. We have poets and writers, painters, singer-songwriters, bands, jewelry-makers, master woodworkers, and of course the photographer-barber.

Tom
And you among them! The stories you're sharing on Cancered Plans elicit in me such a range of responses: laughter, soulful reflection, sadness, some anger, and feeling strengthened by your endurance. How has writing about your illness changed how you process it?

Kerry
Thank you so much. Writing about the experience helps me TO process it, as opposed to stuffing it down deep and hanging out in denial all of the time. It helps me put words to feelings, and it helps me to visualize what needs to be done. I also think that the times when I'm able to write comically about it helps me not take things too seriously. And it helps other people know that they don't have to be in mourning around me all of the time.

Tom
I can imagine you do quite a bit of helping others with their experience of YOUR experience.

Kerry
I hope so. My goal is to engage in life and with people as much as possible at a time when it can be instinctive to retreat.

Tom
That's an amazing wisdom.

Now, speaking of not retreating from the things that feed your spirit, you've continued to open up your home to foster dogs, haven't you?

Kerry
I have. I had to stop for a while, because my mom was taking care of me, and it didn't feel fair to her for me to add to the brood. But now that I'm feeling better, for as long as it lasts, I've decided that it's the perfect time to foster again. No long-term commitments, but I get my puppy fix and help dogs that need homes during their transition time.

Tom
Shout-out to any local adoption orgs you work with?

Kerry
Potter's Angels!

Tom
How do the cats do with your temporary wagging guests?

Kerry
They get scarce when the doggos come around. They get along great with Moxie, the dog-in-residence, but the temps are not popular.

Kerry snuggles up to her Moxie.


Tom
Shifting gears and coming at you straight-on—you say you're terminal. I suppose for the uninitiated that can have different shades of meaning. What's it mean for you? 

Kerry
Yes. Terminal. People want me to experience a miracle, of course, Heck, I wouldn't turn down a miracle! But it's difficult for folks to wrap their brains around the idea that this disease is probably what will kill me. It's especially hard for people who know someone who has "beaten cancer.” It's nice when it happens, but it's not likely in the cards for me. Fortunately, there's no real timeline yet. I have at least a couple of good years in me, and will do everything they offer to help me keep going. 

And science is moving really fast. They could come up with something brilliant between now and then.

Tom
And here at the close of March, which we know as Colon Cancer Awareness Month, what should people know about the risks and what should they do? 

Kerry
*clears throat and steps up on soap box*

Tom
Get on up there.

Kerry
The numbers don't match the methods right now. 

The demographic that is experiencing increasing numbers of incidents of Colon Cancer is young people (30's and 40's), but the population that gets routinely screened is the over-50 crowd. It's not right.  

If people have ANY inkling that they may be at risk or that something may be wrong in their general colon area, they should get on their docs to schedule a screening, whether it be a colonoscopy or some other method. 

The doctors will argue with you that you are not at risk, but in reality you MIGHT BE AT RISK. 

If I had been screened at 40 instead of following the recommended timeline, we may have caught it far earlier and kept it from spreading to my liver, which is where it has taken up residence and is not going away. (I was diagnosed when I was almost 42)

Tom
That's more than a little devastating to read. Have you come to any peace with where you’re at? 

Kerry
I think so. I don't worry about it too much, since it's ultimately not going to be up to me. I've embraced “living in the moment” so that my kids' memories will be joyful. As for what comes after, I'm not at all sure what that will be, and I'm kind of curious. If it's true what some believe, that we live on in the memories of our loved ones and our legacy, I hope that I'm remembered as someone who really lived and spread a little bit of love and happiness in my corner of the world!


Catch the love that Kerry's spreading—subscribe to Cancered Plans.

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