Renal Cell Carcinoma Survivor

Learn All You Can

By Paul Boesel
Stage III Renal Cell Carcinoma

After experiencing some gastrointestinal issues one winter, I found a gastroenterologist and had my first colonoscopy. I had 12 hyperplastic polyps removed (thankfully all benign), but about 10 inches of my colon was red and swollen—basically a case of mild chronic colitis. After more tests, an X-ray revealed a soft tissue mass on my left kidney – measuring 8 to 9 centimeters – which was confirmed by a renal ultrasound and an abdominal CT scan. The gastroenterologist called me and my wife into his office a few days before Christmas. Although he was reluctant to say the mass was cancerous, he looked me right in the eye and said, “You need to get this taken care of. NOW.”

We knew nothing about kidney cancer, and I had never been to a urologist. We needed more information, so Barbara and I conducted extensive research online, talked with relatives and friends, and scoured medical books for any related information we could find. We created a file with pertinent information and potential questions based on our research. The next step was to get recommendations for urologists, and my wife insisted on multiple opinions.

The three urologists we visited all said the same thing: You have kidney cancer, you don't need any additional tests, and surgery is your only option. There was no chemo for kidney cancer at the time, and even if there were, the size of the tumor dictated surgery. The third urologist – who performed two to three nephrectomies per week – inspired the most confidence of the group by far. He spent more than two hours with us at our first appointment, thoroughly explaining what else needed to be done before surgery, what would occur during surgery, and the short- and long-term effects after the surgery.

With a maximum tumor dimension of 11.5 cm, the official diagnosis was renal cell carcinoma, clear cell type, Fuhrman grade III. The tumor was contained within the kidney, all surgical margins were clean and the adrenal gland (also removed) was normal. The tumor did slightly invade my inferior vena cava, but the urologist was able to remove the tumor during surgery. What a relief!

After surgery and a move out of state, I focused on finding a good urologist closer to home, creating a file of all my test results, and keeping up with my annual CT scans of my chest and abdomen. (If kidney cancer spreads, it usually goes to the lungs first.)

Since the kidney cancer, I’ve had prostate cancer and several skin cancers, so I've met with three different oncologists to discuss what I can do to prevent or minimize additional cancers. A PSA test has been added to my annual checkups, along with quarterly full-body scans by my dermatologist. It’s been almost 12 years since my kidney surgery, and if it weren’t for the long scar on my abdomen, I wouldn't know I'm missing one of my kidneys.

Based on my experience, the best advice came from my wife, Barbara. She insisted we needed to learn as much as we could about the disease and the treatment options. It’s helpful to collect and keep copies of all cancer-related test results and reports. Because there’s a lot of information to absorb, take someone with you to your appointments to take notes or record the doctor—I’ve never had a doctor refuse this request. Finally, have confidence in the treatment plan and your doctor.

Attitude is everything.

 

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