It’s Terminal

5 Sep

 

My doctors suspected that the growth on my kidney would turn out to be cancerous even before they were able to remove it.  They said that they would need to analyze it before I was discharged from the hospital, but they gave us their report several days after they had promised they would.

I wasn’t too keyed up about it – I already figured that it would be cancerous – but my mom was really worked up.  She cried every time she asked the doctors whether they knew anything yet and they answered “No.”

When they finally did tell us that it was cancer (clear cell renal cell carcinoma with metastases to the lungs, to be specific), my mom asked how long I’d have to undergo treatment.  “For the rest of her life,” answered the doctor.  “And how long will that be?” my mom asked.  “We’ve heard of people surviving for up to fifteen years,” the doctor answered.  “The good news is that major advances are being made in kidney cancer treatments.  Five years ago, we didn’t have all the medications that we have now.”

Picking a first course of treatment was a bit of a Russian roulette – long-term studies had not yet been published about the success rate of some of the medications available as a first line of treatment in Switzerland.  I was given a choice between an Avastin/Interferon mix and Sutent and picked Sutent solely because it was a medication I could take by mouth.  Needles and I are not friends, and I was not about to go on IV treatment for the rest of my life if I had a viable alternative.

As it turned out, the doctor’s assessment of my prognosis was overly optimistic, since we weren’t yet aware of the extent to which the cancer had spread.  That would come a few weeks later, when I began experiencing excruciating headaches.  My head hurt so bad that I was barely aware of what was going on around me and I barely recalled the head nun’s presence in my room, telling me that I wasn’t welcome in the dorm anymore because I was too sick and she didn’t want the other nuns to have to take care of me.

My mom took me back to the hospital, with me throwing up in a plastic bag the whole way, only to find out that the cancer had spread to my brain.  I was put on steroids to reduce the edema around the tumors and quickly got better, but it took a lot of convincing to get the nuns to let me stay – Dr. Godin had to get on the phone and have a heated, half-hour-long conversation with her before she would change her mind.  (His daughter later confided, “I haven’t heard him that angry in a long time.”)

With the discovery that the cancer had spread to my brain, my prognosis was significantly worse – the cancer was classified as Stage IV instead of Stage III.  The doctors were delicate enough to not tell me exactly how much worse my prognosis was, but I later found out on my own that fewer than 8% of Stage IV renal cell carcinoma patient survive five years past their diagnosis.  Still, I never lost the desire to fight to be a part of that 8%.

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