When the doctor did a MRI scan on my kidneys, he saw something on my right kidney. He could tell it was a mass, but kidney cancer (or renal cell carcinoma, which is the technical name for what I had) is a strange thing. The only way to be certain whether it is benign or malignant is to do the surgery, test part of the mass, and draw the conclusion. This means you’ll possibly lose at least part of your kidney and not actually have cancer. Even if the mass is actually cancerous, unless the cancer has metastasized and traveled to other parts of the body, there is no chemotherapy or radiation after the surgery because it generally doesn’t affect the person’s survival.
I could have waited for a specialist’s appointment in Canada, but because my family was back in the States, my partner and I chose to move there and get medical treatment where we would have my family’s support. We packed our stuff, loaded our van with everything we could fit, and headed to small town South Carolina. By the time we got settled and I had medical coverage again, it was December. I learned that it was most likely cancer in December 2011. Luckily, it is a slow-growing cancer, so the several months I had been delayed had no negative impact. I had surgery at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center in March 2012. The post-surgery verdict was that the mass was indeed cancer at an early stage without metastasis.
Wikipedia says that the United States’ NIH estimates for 2013 around 64,770 new cases of kidney cancer and 13,570 deaths from the disease. Supposedly the numbers of people with kidney cancer are increasing, but no one knows why. I have known several people since I was diagnosed who have had surgery for renal cell carcinoma. It seems to be one of the forms of cancer that traumatizes those who find out they have it, but most of the lucky ones find that it is caught early enough to be completely removed and leave no lasting effects–that is, no effects except the trauma of hearing the words, “You have cancer,” and the fear at the back of your mind that the cancer will recur, this time much stronger and more aggressive. I was particularly scared of the possibility of brain cancer, which is one of the more likely places the cancer might show up later, because of my early experiences with hydrocephalus. Overall five-year survival rates in the United States are 73%, and I’m at 3 ½ years. If I feel out of sorts for very long at a time, I worry that it’s recurring. I don’t know if you ever really get past that, no matter what you tell yourself.
I’ve attended Camp Bluebird, a camp for adults who have been diagnosed with cancer. Some of us are several or more years past treatment without recurrence, and others are actively fighting the battle and taking a few days to care for themselves emotionally and spiritually. This year was particularly eye-opening, since I think it finally sank in how fortunate I was that my cancer was so easily resolved. I feel almost guilty saying that I even HAD cancer, because my experience was so much less intense than that of others. My life has been changed, even though I didn’t go through any of the “cancer” struggles. I no longer take things for granted, as hokey as that sounds. I’ve lived with depression for many years, but I don’t think about suicide so often. I value my life for what it is, and I’m thankful for that lesson.
Kidney cancer awareness has two different color ribbons you might see–green and orange. I think that orange is the more recent one, so it’s the one I use.