Cancer and Change


Living with cancer and dealing with change.  One military spouse's account Papillary Renal Cell Carcinoma.It’s funny how one event can have such a profound effect on your life. As I was recovering in the hospital, a sense of calm came over me. I started reflecting on my life and what is truly important to me. A simple, yet very powerful statement came to mind, “life is short”.

My bout with cancer was brief, but it had a profound effect on me. I realized I had to let go of things and in the grand scheme of life, are unimportant and not worth the time I spent worrying about them. I overanalyzed everything -- body language, words spoken, words unspoken, and I often overreacted to situations. I guess you could say I straightened out my priorities.

In December 2014, I was stricken with sciatica. For an entire month, my mobility was limited. I needed assistance walking, getting dressed, and getting in and out of bed. The simplest of tasks were met with pain, and tears. In January 2015, my doctor ordered an MRI to find the cause of the sciatica. The results showed no indicator as to why I was experiencing such excruciating pain. The MRI did, however, reveal a mass on my kidney. A CT Scan followed and never in my wildest dreams did I ever expect to hear the outcome...they had found a 3 cm tumor in my kidney and it was most likely cancerous.

As my heart sank, I began to wonder, “Why me? What caused this?” Even my doctor was baffled, as I meet none of the criteria for someone at risk for Renal Cell Carcinoma. I was a 45-year-old female in good health with no history or risk factors. Subsequent blood work showed my kidneys and liver were functioning properly and further screening showed no indication of metastasis.

My doctors reassured me there was a 50% chance the tumor was benign but I could tell by their body language that they knew it was malignant. After a consultation with the urologist, a plan of action was established — a partial nephrectomy would be performed to remove the tumor from my kidney.

Since my family and I lived overseas and the hospitals were not equipped to handle this type of surgery, the decision was made to send me to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland for surgery. In June, my family and I traveled back to the United States and four days after arriving, the surgery was performed.

The doctors told me I was fortunate that the tumor was discovered when it was 3.1 cm and the tumor was not large enough to cause damage to my kidneys, or get into my bloodstream. And, because of its well-defined borders, the surgeon was confident the removal of the tumor was the end to the cancer.

After the surgery, the tumor was sent off to pathology and the results were ready before I left the hospital. A few days later, the fear in my heart came true; the tumor was cancerous even though family and friends still held out hope that it wasn’t cancerous.  When the pathology report came back, there it was right in front of me: “Papillary Renal Cell Carcinoma”. My heart sank once again and tears flowed down my face. Seeing the words in writing made it real. There was no more 50-50 chance. The tumor was 100% cancer.

CANCER...the one word that affects your life tremendously; a word that will forever be a part of who I am. And for the next 5 years, I will hope and pray my doctors never again utter that word. I want cancer to be a distant memory, one tucked away in the recesses of my mind, never to see the light of day.

Once my recovery period was over, I felt a sense of peace and I found myself much happier. My reactions to situations are now much calmer. I take a more positive view of things. I don't find myself overreacting or getting upset about situations. I’ve removed all those people and situations in my life that caused me stress. And when someone tries to introduce negativity, I walk away.

Exercise has also become my outlet for stress and negativity. Am I walking around like “Susie Sunshine” with a smile on my face and love for everyone? No, but I do look for and focus on the positives in life. I’ve reevaluated friendships and have let go those people who not good for me.

I do not consider myself a survivor. I do not consider myself a fighter. My ordeal with cancer does not compare to the millions of people. Way too many of my friends and family members have fought and continue to fight for their lives against this monster disease. I am, however, a part of an ever-growing club that has only one requirement for membership - cancer. And each one of us has been changed mentally and spiritually by our experience.