HUNTSVILLE, Ala. - Seven months ago, I started a journey to live healthy. I had two goals: to lose weight and to exercise more. I’ve met both, but three months ago, my journey hit a roadblock. It was a major life changing detour.
Nobody wants to spend their evening at the emergency room. But in early December, that’s where I wound up on a Sunday night. Dr. Kathryn Cox was on duty. “You had a couple of lab abnormalities that were unusual,” she told me. “Your inflammatory count was up. Your liver looked a little unhappy.”
The ER health care team working that night thought my gall bladder was causing my pain. But an ultrasound didn’t really show anything. Dr. Cox decided to order another test. “We just need to get the CT scan and really take a peek at what’s going on inside,” she said. Neither of us was prepared for what was to come. She got a call from the radiologist. “That’s never a good sign because if there’s nothing horribly wrong, they don’t usually call me,” she remembers. “I just read it in the report.” But this couldn’t wait.
The news from the radiologist on the other end of the line wasn’t good.
She recalls the conversation and being told, “He looks like he’s got a couple of gall stones. That’s probably what’s causing the pain but by the way, he has this four centimeter mass on his kidney.” She had to break the news to me. “I think I looked at the charge nurse that night and I said, hey, if you need me I’m going to be in room 19 and I think I’m going to be ruining this man’s life tonight,” she said.
Dr. Cox came in, sat down and told me I had gall stones and my gall bladder needed to come out. Then she looked at me and said, ‘We also need to talk about what else we found.” I had a tumor on one of my kidneys and it was about the size of an eraser. I was thinking it was like a pencil eraser when it fact, I was later told it was more the size of a small orange. And it was cancer.
When asked what her immediate reaction was when she saw the scan, she replied, “A couple of four letter words and an Oh no.” The same thing went through my mind when she told me the news. After surgery to remove my unhappy gall bladder, several doctors told me, my kidney needed to come out. They didn’t think the cancer had spread. “That’s the kind of news you want to be able to give patients if you’ve got to give them any kind of bad news,” Dr. Keith Jiminez told me. He’s the urologist who would be doing my kidney surgery.
Clear cell renal cell carcinoma is the eighth most common cancer. “It’s a deadly disease,” Dr. Jiminez told me during an interview in his office. “And it has to be respected and it’s fairly prevalent.” Clear cell RCC is the most common form of kidney cancer.
According to the American Cancer Society, almost 64,000 cases will be diagnosed this year and more than 14,000 people will die from it. I didn’t want to be one of them. “Statistics don’t mean much when it’s 100 percent of you,” Jiminez said.
Five weeks after gall bladder surgery, I went under the knife again to remove a kidney. But the news I got this time was much better. We’d caught the cancer early. It had not spread, meaning I’ll be around to enjoy my family and friends for a long time. Like other cancer survivors, I’ll have to visit my doctor more often to keep an eye on my health.
We may never know what caused the cancer. “I’ll sometimes say it’s more bad things happening to good people rather than something that has caused it,” Dr. Jiminez told me. But I do know that Dr. Cox said something that I’ll remember the rest of my life. She said, “My goal for every day is try to be the best part of someone’s worst day.” Those are words we can all live by.
Dr. Cox didn’t ruin my life that night. She and her team saved it. If they hadn’t done the CT scan, things could have turned out much differently down the road.