There comes a time in life that we each need to come to terms with our own mortality. My time came in December 1999. As a cancer survivor, I am beyond grateful for all the years since then. A few weeks after my 26th birthday, the term ‘stage 3 renal cell carcinoma’ was thrust upon me. I didn’t know what it meant… I didn’t know what to think or do… I didn’t know how to react. The only sense I could make of it was that carcinoma meant cancer. There was no guidance through my journey with it… no advice from the doctors… nothing. Everything that I learned about kidney health, I learned on my own. The only information provided by the medical professionals was that “we’ll know we got it all if it doesn’t come back within 15 years”... I still had to learn how to live and function with only 1 kidney and no support.
One thing I’ll never forget is that phone call to my mother. She lived on the other side of the country (and still does)... she bought a plane ticket immediately and barely left my side. She also paid for my medication. I was told that I needed to take a high dose of a newer antibiotic for a month leading up to my nephrectomy. Apparently, it was so new that my insurance wouldn’t cover it… and had a price tag of almost $800 a week. Without the financial ability of my mom, I wouldn’t have survived. None of that seems morally right.
With having a 50/50 shot at survival, I can honestly tell you that I wasn’t very optimistic. You see, the doctors had me hooked on pain killers for years… their excuse - the back pain was caused by my line of work. They didn’t look into the fact that I was examined by doctors from the time I was 9 years old with the same symptoms. Cancer ate my left kidney from the inside out… literally. By the time it was seen on the surface, that silent killer already took my entire kidney over. What it did to my brain was even worse. What it did to my family was devastating. What it did to my desire to live - that’s a whole story in itself. That entire situation made me dive into investigating what causes kidney cancer and how to keep living a normal life.
Kidney cancer is still a mysterious condition to a lot of medical professionals. It was always known as a “male over the age of 50” disease. They couldn’t wrap their brains around how a young female ended up almost losing her life from it… they still can’t.
Since then, my medical issues have increased. I just take it all in stride… what else am I supposed to do… hypothetically. Another mass came back on my right kidney that is similar (in scans) to the physical appearance and structure of my last experience. One thing that I learned over the years is that when oxygen touches a tumor, it almost instantly spreads. That left me with the only option my brain could handle - there would be no biopsy. We’ll just wait and see. I came to that decision after coming across a new doctor… Dr. David Richard. I never once intended to switch health care providers. Once he saw the scans of my kidney during a routine visit for my son, he was fascinated. I’ll never forget him showing everyone in the office - with amazement in his eyes that I survived. He also researched and held my hand along the way. We decided to tackle this disease the way I wanted to… to give me a choice at the life I want. That man has kept me alive until this very day… thankfully, I made the right decision.
Over the past 2 decades, I put my life into Dr. Richard’s hands and I always will. From cancer to high blood pressure… from domestic violence to heart disease (SVT)… from anxiety and alcoholism to life threatening allergies - he’s been my only solid. If anyone wanted me to survive more than I wanted to, it was him. He kept me straight and my brain even straighter… kept my sanity intact. More medical professionals should aspire to carry those same values - to be the type of doctor each and every one of us deserves.
It still amazes me the friendships that are built along our short journey of this thing called life… the respect and admiration… gratitude. I don’t take a single day for granted and I never will. Over the next two weeks, I have multiple appointments… his office has called me every day this week. My brain currently doesn’t know how to comprehend everything that’s going on… most of my brain doesn’t want to. My decision is to leave it all in the hands of who I trust the most… who knows best… and who will fight this battle alongside me.
This entire journey has taken its toll on my brain and my mental health. I really wish mental illness was taken more seriously. They always ask if you’ve been feeling sad or depressed… that’s a daily occurance… look into my medical history. Would I ever harm myself… NO… not ever. I count my blessings each and every single day. Cancer can kiss my ass… heart disease can do the same. I’m a fighter and a winner… a warrior… it’s just who I am.
To anyone going through it medically and mentally right now… you are capable of becoming a survivor too… take my word for it. The time has come for my mind to call it a night and I wish each of you a happy and healthy life. Hold your head up and keep that faith close to your heart… hold onto any ounce of optimism within your soul. Every little moment matters.