As a Kidney Cancer Survivor I’m still living with memories and scars. Twelve years ago yesterday I was briefing one of the leaders at the academic medical center I worked at (and now do again) on user adoption of the electronic medical record (EMR) we were deploying. Graphs, data and user feedback were the primary focus of the conversation, but I did not have 100% focus on my task. On my mind were the previous weeks’ phone calls, x-rays, scans and difficult conversations. Unfortunately these conversations included the words, “It’s cancer.” This is where my mind was underneath the discussion about whether folks were charting accurately or liked a certain type of note. The next morning I had surgery to remove the part of my kidney that was cancerous.
Twelve years. Damn. That morning I got up early, checked in, got prepped and then everything went black. After surgery I woke up in recovery very high from the pharmacology that helped keep my pain at bay. I remember clearly and still talk about the pain of having a surgical drain removed, catching my then two and a half year old son as he innocently tried to jump onto me a day or so post op and this is when the thought “Will this come back?” got etched into my mind. This will never go away. I am fortunate, thankful and lucky. For some, their resolution was not so easy.
Then there are the scars. When they were fresh my abdomen and back looked like I had gotten into a knife fight or was riddled with bullets and the wounds were healing. The Da Vinci Surgical System (image to left) is why. My newfound scars were a result of incisions needed to provide access to my insides to skillfully remove the cancerous tissue. The physical scars healed up and while still visible, they’re much harder to see. I don’t mind these. They remind me of great people who supported me from when the “C word” bomb dropped through recovery and beyond.
Since then I’ve cleared my five and ten year checkpoints, which is great, but it’s also unnerving. It’s like cutting a safety lifeline or leaving the comfort blanket of regular contact with the people who saved your life and provided reassurance that not every little bump is new cancer. I know other survivors and there is a similar theme to wondering “What if?” The other theme is to live. Live your life and not dwell on that.
My Lessons Learned for Post-Cancer Life:
- Allow yourself to be upset about it
- People won’t understand and that’s ok
- Get active when you can and stay active
- Don’t get caught in the “Why” or “What if?” loop
- Use it to provide perspective
I know my story so far is a best case scenario and others have faced much worse or did not win their fight and have passed on. To all the family and friends that were and still are here for me, “Thank you and I love you.” To all who were involved in my diagnosis, surgery, follow ups and ongoing care, I can never repay that debt. To those of us whose loved ones did not win their fight, but put up a hell of a battle with f-ing Cancer, “I am sorry for your loss, the world’s loss and I wish you all Godspeed”.
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