Since the last ultrasound, I have been enjoying life to the hilt. In April, Ed and I moved to a great home with trees and flowers all around us. A family of deer frolic through our woods. Never far away, rabbits, squirrels, and chipmunks visit our patio often, even when we are relaxing by the fountain in the fish pond.
Last week I had an ultrasound on my kidneys. The bad news is that it is not smaller. The good news is that it is no bigger than it was. Today I went to see urologist Dr. B, my second opinion doctor. Now he is telling me that surgery could be in the future for me sometime.
The reason? My parents were long-lived and it’s possible I could live to be 90. While happily that is a number of decades from now, there are no statistics on the number of years a kidney tumor can be safely watched. According to Dr. B, it has not happened before.
In the past, doctors took out any kidney that had a tumor. Now they try to take only the tumor and leave much of the kidney. There’s no statistics or research information on what will happen over the years for someone who is expected to live as long as I am. In my situation, there are not a lot of people that have been watched over a long time. So I suggested that I would be the first. That’s a valuable contribution. Right?
“Your possible years left are a whole career for a doctor. Some young doctor will be following you and have to pass you off to yet another doctor. And no doctor wants to do that.” Dr. B conjectured this as if that was a bad thing. It is not for me.
Dr. B said I should think about surgery in a few years. I reminded him of his assertion a year ago that I could live with the tumor. He answered that he is giving me the other side of it now. Hmm.
Reminding him that a year ago he claimed that patients with kidney surgery can die a decade earlier than the national statistics, Dr. B responded that it is true when one whole kidney is extracted. Given that he thinks he can take out my tumor despite it’s delicate position near the blood supply, he downplayed the danger. We did not get into the problem of my lungs. I’m still thinking about this turn of attitude. For now, we agreed things will stay the same.
Meanwhile, I will continue to live fully. Enjoying every minute, I am not slowing down.
As with any relationship, this one continues to evolve. Surprises occur, some I like and some I don’t. Cancer doesn’t care about my opinion. It just is. Or is it? One thing I know for sure: I’m in this to learn. This crash course in life has provided enormous opportunities to widen my scope.
No advanced doctorate degree could be more intense. My cancer education has been on a physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual scale.
It started with a routine chest CT scan six months ago. The radiology department had scanned from chest to kidneys. Three weeks after the scan, I managed to get an appointment to hear the scan results. “Look, you’ve got cancer in both kidneys,” exclaimed my pulmonologist. Excitedly, she pointed to a screen with black, gray and white marks on it. I took her word for it. Not sharing her enthusiasm, I didn’t react.
There was no time to talk about my lungs on that visit. Rather, there was a flurry of activity around scheduling an abdomen scan to see the kidney more clearly. Within a week it was confirmed that I needed a specialist.
My history kept me calm and objective. In 1991, I had been diagnosed with lung cancer. I had been coughing up blood from my lungs, something that was not new. After a CT scan, the pulmonologist at the time, told me I needed surgery to remove my whole right lung. I took the CT scan to a second pulmonologist who said: “Yes, it could be cancer. And with your lungs, the surgery could kill you.”
Since I said no to that first diagnosing doctor in 1991, he actually called my husband and enrolled him in the idea of surgery for me. Figuring I could die if I did, or die if I didn’t, I refused. Nothing bad happened as a result.
With that experience in my background, I decided not to worry about anything until I knew for sure. The thought of having two cancerous kidneys would at times shock my mind, and I would remind myself that I did not have any physical pain. I knew I had to focus on the possibility the CT scan was wrong.