Four and a half years ago, I received a dire diagnosis. Renal cell carcinoma. Kidney cancer. I opened my internet browser and found out just how dire — I had a five percent chance of being alive in five years. I saw my life pass before my eyes. My beautiful sons. My parents, my friends, my pets. Oh God, my sweet Jill. I didn’t want to leave them. How would I ever start the process of dying? When someone tells you that death has come knocking, you just never know how you’ll react. Much like, I’m sure, that warrior’s realization that the only thing between them and an angry enemy is the grit and determination they can conjure as they plan their attack. I’ll admit, I didn’t know what the hell to do. So, I did the only thing I knew how to do. I wrote — a lot. Prior to this post, the words I’ve written and those that have been written back to me fill up over 400 8.5″ by 11″ single-spaced pages! I was, and continue to be, scared to death.
At my first visit with local hematologist/medical oncologist, Dr. Andrew Pippas at the John B. Amos Cancer Center, he cautioned me to be aware that the internet would likely deliver an outdated view of my prognosis. He assured me that there were new drugs coming online and he looked right into my eyes and said, “You’re not going to die any time soon.”
Since that office visit well over four years ago, Dr. Pippas and I have had many ups and downs. We have argued. I have even refused at least one treatment course he wanted me to begin. Our relationship has been one of give and take. Despite any differences we’ve had, what Dr. Pippas has never wavered from, is his position as the most solid, wonderful leader of my medical team. We’ve sought opinions from the best RCC doctors on the planet in New York City, at Duke University Hospital in North Carolina and at cancer mecca, M. D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, Tex. I have also relied on the testimony from a cadre of RCC patients, some of whom are still alive and others who have, despite the best efforts of the best doctors in the country, have gone on to their greater rewards and have left pain and suffering as well as their loving friends and families behind.
Those of you who are regular readers of this blog know that if I am posting, I am likely in a frightened state. That I have not posted much lately is a sign of good things in our lives. Yes, I’ve lost 90 pounds. That is good. Good for Strainer, my remaining kidney. Good for my body’s processes. Great for my creatinine level. Great for my blood pressure. Great for Chancellor’s Mens Store, because not a single item of clothing I own, including shoes, underwear, pants and shirts fit me. Only my socks and hats fit me. I have managed to cobble together a manageable skinny wardrobe that I am not embarrassed to be seen in out on the street, gratefully discovering that really expensive “stretchy” jeans are now a luxury that I will never be without.
So, the good news is that this cancer, for the moment, is not trying to kill me. Sadly though, the Votrient that I’m taking 800 mgs. a day of, is whipping my ass. Votrient has taken the pigment from my hair. All of it. Votrient has given me chronic, daily diarrhea. Votrient makes me throw up. Out of the blue and without much warning. In addition to the original site of this cancer in my left kidney and in at least one lymph node near that kidney, I have endured metastases in my spine at L2. Two back surgeries, two rounds of stereotactic radiosurgery (radiation) have beaten those metastases back.
Last year, doctors discovered other mets in my left adrenal gland and possibly in my right kidney. The Votrient was begun, according to superstar surgeon, Dr. Christopher Wood at M. D. Anderson, to “see if it will make these tumors smaller in advance of another surgery to remove the adrenal gland.” That was a year ago. Despite making me skinny, washed out and pale and always in a gastrointestinal turmoil, I found out yesterday that Votrient is working for me. When I say “working,” I mean working like a son of a bitch! After reading my scans yesterday, Dr. Pippas told me that my tumors are gone. I am by no means cured. But what I am is alive, still among my loved ones and fairly well able to enjoy life. I’ll take that for now.
I am still in research mode. There is a new clinical trial at Johns Hopkins in Baltimore that delivers a combination of two new drugs and it is showing mind-blowing response rates among RCC patients. The bad news is that the tumors will have to return in order for me to qualify to enter that trial. With cancer, there is always bad news sprinkled in the with little good news you hear. I’ll keep looking for that magic bullet. I’ll keep taking Votrient. I’ll keep loving my awesome family. I’ll keep hugging my pets. I’ll continue to bathe in the gentle love coming from our huge cadre of friends.
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