On October 2, 2007 I had surgery to remove my left kidney, which had been almost completely taken over by renal cell cancer. On October 8, 2010 I met with the urologist who had performed the surgery for a six-month check-up. He reported that my recent CT scan was clear. He said that after three years, my next appointment should be in nine months rather than six. This article will explain some of my thoughts and feelings at passing this milestone.
My cancer was discovered by accident. I was having tests to ascertain whether I had valley fever, which would explain my extreme fatigue over the past several months and the painful lumps that had appeared on my legs. A chest x-ray showed lesions on my lung, and the radiologist suggested a CT scan. After discussing it with my doctor and realizing that Medicare would pay the costs, I agreed to the scan. That scan picked up a large kidney growth. When I met my urologist for the first time, he said that removing the kidney was the prescribed treatment, and showed some of the pictures. There was little healthy tissue visible. There was a 90% chance it was cancer.
Though it felt like each step took forever, it was actually less than six weeks between the first scan and the surgery. Because of my lung involvement, I was in the hospital for 12 days and was discharged on Warfarin. I was able to discontinue the Warfarin after a year.
The experience was life-changing.
I have suffered from depression most of my life. When I was so exhausted all the time from the valley fever, I assumed it was depression, and therefore never thought of going to the doctor. But with a probable cancer diagnosis I had to make a decision. I decided I wanted to live. After surgery everything was new. Life became a series of firsts – the first thing I actually wanted to have (a birthstone ring), the first music I played (Beethoven’s Eroica Symphony), the first birthday (my 60th). I have had other transformative experiences, but they were new experiences that opened up new possibilities or healed old wounds. This was different. Old things looked new. It was as if the world had been washed clean and life itself was new. Everything became a celebration.
When the world is new, it is full of possibilities. I am not a different person, but I am more willing to try new things and take new risks. My life is new and is unfolding before me in ways I could not and cannot anticipate.
I am alive.