How Lavender Went Over Her Edge with Cancer and Gilda’s Club
“Mama went right down the building like Spiderman,” our three-year-old often says with pride. He is describing his Mama Lavender Knight and her descent down a 14-story building, rappelling while raising money for Gilda’s Club, a cancer support community in Madison, WI, and other locations across the country. Lavender pushed her edges that day and went past them, not just literally going over a building, but also pushing past her fear of heights.
Lavender was brave. Just like the TV show our son Cedar watches, Lavender was “The Bravest Knight.” She frequently pushed her edges. If something made her uncomfortable, she looked it square in the face and met it head on, not backing away. She faced a judgmental world coming out, proud to be an openly queer woman part of the LGBTQ community. She blasted through the challenges of raising a toddler on her own and getting a bachelor’s degree at the UW at the same time. She loved all of her kids despite the challenges faced with having a biological kid, a stepchild, a foster daughter, three babies who died, and a son born from a donated embryo she carried. Plus, there were the children she nannied and those she mentored too. She exploded through the societal expectations of how to dress, wearing a cacophony of bright colors, sparkles and glitter, dressing, in her words, “like a toddler.” She was a throwback, a self-described “Domestic Goddess”, an Urban Homesteader. She had enormous gardens, preserved food, baked bread from scratch, and made baskets and quilts. And when she realized she was an alcoholic, she danced her way through recovery, sober for many years before she died.
Always an edge pusher, she found herself up against her greatest challenge at the end of 2018. At 39 years old, my wife was diagnosed with Stage 4 Renal Cell Carcinoma. We had a 4-month-old baby and two young adults with whom we had to share the devastating news. In shock and terror, Lavender launched into treatment but by that point it was mostly too late. For 10 years she had suffered with chronic pain and strange symptoms no one could ever explain. Now we knew the cause and there was no cure. Sadly, the immunotherapy treatments, the bast chance at prolonging her life, did not work. She flew over the edge of life into death in May 2020.
But in that last year and half of her life, she loved more, laughed more, cried more, quilted more, gardened more, and surrendered to more grace and peace and the authenticity of her soul than I could ever describe. She shown like the glorious sun and truly went into the beyond on a rainbow of light.
When she heard that Gilda’s Club, the organization that had supported us with groups, meals, art therapy, social gatherings, childcare, advocacy and more, was doing a fundraiser, she jumped at the chance to help. She told me she would be rappelling down a 14-story building and that she was afraid of heights. “If I can face kidney cancer, I can do this,” she declared. And she did, pushing right past her edge, with a rainbow tutu on and a big group of friends present to cheer for her. It took her a long time to come down. I asked her afterwards if it was scary and if that was the reason she descended so slowly. “No,” she told me, “I wanted to make every second last.” Lavender always chose to live in the NOW whatever edge she faced.
Hear Tanya tell the her story on the Gilda’s Club Madison YouTube channel: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6dHVrTZZmig