Renal Cell Carcinoma Survivor

My Walk With Cancer

When his arm broke for no apparent reason in January 2008, Karl Neutz never dreamed it was a result of Stage IV renal cell carcinoma. Today, he feels great and enjoys giving back by volunteering as a peer-to-peer counselor for other RCC survivors. He credits his long-term survival to God, excellent medical care and the support of his loving wife and friends.

 

Walking up the stairs at work, my left arm snapped. Just like that. I wasn’t carrying anything heavy and didn’t bump it. The pain was excruciating, and I went straight to my doctor’s office. An X-ray showed my arm was broken. I was in extreme pain, and my doctor recommended I go to the hospital for more X-rays. They called my wife. She came to take me to the hospital, where three doctors informed me I had cancer and must be admitted right away. I didn’t believe them. And I didn’t want to check in to the hospital. I wanted to go home. The doctor assured me he could relieve my pain, and I finally agreed to stay.

More tests led to my official diagnosis: Stage IV renal cell carcinoma. A 5-centimeter tumor on my right kidney had metastasized to a vertebra, my fourth rib and my humerus, which caused my arm to break. I was 51 years old.

My medical team recommended surgery followed by targeted therapy to inhibit blood vessel growth to the remaining tumors. My wife and I asked questions, prayed about it, discussed the options with our family, and returned with more questions. I also asked my doctor to think of me as his brother. If he would recommend this treatment to his brother, then I was in. That became our process for all my treatments.

During my nine-day hospital stay, I had surgeries to stabilize my arm and remove my right kidney. As I waited to be released, I read a passage in the Bible about eating a healthful diet. One of the nurses stopped by and suggested I change my diet. I felt that was more than just a coincidence, and I took it to heart. We went organic. I filled my diet with vegetables and began juicing. I made some juices that could make your hair stand on end! I steered clear of processed foods, sugar and soda and cut out pork. I began to exercise, walking a mile or two, four or five days a week.

I began the targeted therapy, and I felt like the medicine was killing me after just two days. I told my doctor I wanted to stop. We compromised, and he reduced the dosage. I still had some side effects but continued with treatment. My quality of life improved drastically. I feel the lifestyle change also helped me through.

When follow-up tests showed the tumor in my arm was growing, I saw a surgeon. We discussed his plan, prayed, asked questions and agreed. He removed a 7-centimeter tumor, along with most of my deltoid muscle. I have limited mobility, but he got all the cancer. Additional scans didn’t detect any more tumors in my vertebra or rib, so I stopped the targeted therapy.

Two years later, a fast-growing tumor was discovered on my right shoulder, and radiation therapy stabilized it. After another two and a half years, it began to grow and the doctor wanted to remove it. I was relying on my faith to get me through this recurrence and eventually went back to my surgeon. He couldn’t guarantee I’d have full mobility, and I had a fear of not being able to do simple things, like change a light bulb. I’m happy to say that just two weeks after he removed a softball-sized tumor from my shoulder, I could lift my arm over my head and move it all around.

I’ve had no surgeries since 2015, and no new cancer since 2018. I realize kidney cancer is unpredictable and could come back, but I don’t ponder it. I have scans twice a year, eat right, exercise and drink lots of water to flush my kidney.

My wife was very supportive throughout it all. She is an awesome caretaker. She took notes at my doctor’s appointments and always had questions prepared. Good friends brought food and visited. It was hard to accept help, but it became easier once I saw how much joy it brought others.

Not long after my diagnosis, my urologist referred me to the support group Friend for Life Cancer Support Network (www.friend4life.org). He thought I’d benefit from the peer to peer interaction, and he felt I could help other people, too. It’s a good fit.

To give yourself the best possible chance after an RCC diagnosis, my advice is to try to live a healthy lifestyle and reduce stress. For me, prayer and meditation helped and strengthened my spiritual connection. Listening to what was going on inside gave me peace.

Open your heart and don’t give up. Some pretty incredible treatments are giving people more time. I’m confident that one day we’ll have a cure.

 

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