“The Face of an Angel With the Heart of a Gladiator”
Originally published in The Renal Review, October 2004
On May 2 of this year 2004, Darlene Crowe and I met for lunch at Romeo’s Restaurant in Duncan so that I could interview her in preparation for this article. She was recommended to me as a biography candidate because of her positive and inspiring attitude, despite years of illness. Sadly, Darlene passed away on September 11, 2004. She was 46 years old. At the young age of 13, Darlene Isabelle Cripps was diagnosed with von Hippel-Lindau disease (VHL). According to the US National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, VHL is a “rare, genetic multi-system disorder characterized by the abnormal growth of tumors in certain parts of the body … Individuals with VHL are also at a higher risk than normal for certain types of cancer, especially kidney cancer.” Darlene’s mother Eleanor succumbed to VHL at the age of 49, as did her older brother Steve when he was 26 years old.
During the course of her illness Darlene faced numerous challenges. One of the biggest was after she was diagnosed with renal cancer. Darlene underwent surgery in order to remove the cancer, believed at the time to be in a small area of one kidney. There was no talk of dialysis or transplants prior to the surgery as it was expected there would be sufficient kidney function remaining afterwards. During the surgery it was discovered that the cancer had actually spread throughout both kidneys. The first kidney was removed immediately, the second one six weeks later after a fistula was put in place in preparation for hemodialysis.
After the surgery, Darlene said she remembered knowing little about kidney disease and having many misconceptions about it. She assumed she would eventually receive a transplant, not realizing (or as she said, “not wanting to accept”) that she was not a candidate for transplantation. She also didn’t realize that people could live for years on dialysis; she thought it was only a short-term stop-gap measurement while waiting for a transplant (which is true in many cases, but certainly not all). In addition, she expected that once on dialysis she would feel ill all the time, which did not prove to be true. Pat Chadwick remembers meeting Darlene for the first time while she was still in hospital recovering from her surgery. She was asked to visit Darlene because “Darlene wanted to see someone who had kidney disease who was up and walking around, not lying in bed sick.”
That kind of attitude stood Darlene in good stead throughout her life. Her husband Bruce Crowe said of her, “She always faced each new roadblock with a smile and simply carried on with her life … No matter what the adversity she always had a smile that would light up a room and a demeanor which showed an innocence and naivety which belied the determination which hid beneath the surface. I can best describe it as the face of an angel with the heart of a gladiator.” Ironically, Darlene and Bruce originally met when Bruce and his first wife catered Darlene’s first wedding. They met again years later after they had both divorced and became close friends. They married on September 18, 1993.
Darlene loved reading and her favourite subjects included self-help books, biographies, books on spirituality, ESP, and positive thinking. She highly recommended the classic bestseller Creative Visualization by Shakti Gawain. Creative visualization “is the art of using mental imagery and affirmation to produce positive changes in your life.” This could be in your career, education, health, fitness, creativity, self-esteem, or any other area of your life you wish to change or improve. Darlene said she often practiced creative visualization, meditation, and positive thinking.
Darlene’s actions followed her attitude. She was active in the renal community in Nanaimo, volunteering with both VIKPA and the KFC. She was a former president of the local chapter of the KFC and produced a small newsletter for the local unit. As well, she often would bring in games or decorations for the renal unit. In the summer of 2003, she and husband Bruce organized a pig roast and head-shaving event at the Timberland Pub in Cassidy, raising $4300 for VIKPA.
She was also the Nanaimo correspondent for this newsletter, passing along news of interest to other renal patients.
Darlene Crowe’s wonderful strength and attitude helped her overcome the many challenges in her life. Her positive attitude was followed closely by positive deeds which benefited many people. “I have always felt that she stood as a tower of inspiration to people whose lives are challenged by problems of one kind or another,” relates her husband Bruce. In addition to Bruce, Darlene is also survived by her daughter, Julie; granddaughters, Katarina and Sammy; by Bruce’s children, Kevin and Karen; and by Karen’s daughter, Kaelyn. She is greatly missed by one and all.