I sat down to write this post so many times over the last few weeks, and each time I found myself struggling to move my thoughts from my head to the keyboard. The 6 saved drafts and countless deleted posts are a testament to where my mind has been. The last month has been a struggle for us as we were hit with unforeseen news that changed not just our Summer plans, but our family’s life plan.
My wonderful husband, Ben, walked into our doctor’s office in the middle of June for a routine followup on a blood pressure medication change and pulled abdominal muscle. Neither of us could have ever imagined that routine followup would turn into weeks of testing, major surgery, and shock. Ben mentioned to the nurse practitioner that the bruise from his pulled muscle had gone away, but he still had some swelling on his side a month later. A week later Ben had a CT scan to look for a hernia, and the results came 2 days later on a Friday morning.
“You don’t have a hernia, but we need you to stop by the office sometime today to go over your results. We know you have a busy schedule, but the doctor really doesn’t think you need to wait until Monday to come by.”
When I heard those words, my heart dropped knowing getting results in the office is never a good thing. I couldn’t go to the doctor’s office with Ben that day, so I spent Friday afternoon pacing the floor preparing myself for the worst. When Ben walked through the door, he didn’t say a word. He sat down on the couch and looked at me. The words were out of my mouth before I even realized I had said them.
“It’s cancer, isn’t it?”
He shook his head and confirmed my worst fear. Renal Cell Carcinoma…kidney cancer.
I have spent 15 years with this wonderful man, and almost 13 years as his wife. The immediate thought of losing him, there are no words to describe that feeling.
He is my partner, the father of my children, the calm to my storm, my better half and best friend. Besides my children, he is the one person in my life I can’t imagine living without, and just hearing the word “cancer” brought me to my knees.
The CT scan showed there was a 2cm cell mass on the lower portion of his kidney and a cyst on the upper portion. The radiologist was 80% sure the mass was cancerous. We were told repeatedly that kidney cancer usually isn’t detected until it has reached at least stage 2 because there usually aren’t any symptoms until more advanced stages. Most smaller tumors are found during scans for other issues just like in Ben’s case. His only symptom was the small bulge on his left side that was believed to be a hernia. Our wonderful family doctor was very hopeful, but she didn’t want to waste any time as kidney cancer can grow really slow, or it can spread like wildfire. She spent countless hours calling every urologist affiliated with our preferred hospital hoping to find one who could see him immediately, but with July 4th only 2 weeks away, most of them had scheduled vacations and were booked through August. Then she found Dr. Lawton. He isn’t affiliated with our preferred hospital, but he is with our local hospital. And, he could see Ben immediately.
We spent the weekend trying to celebrate Aubrey’s 3rd birthday while trying to push the cancer diagnosis out of our minds. I admit Ben was handling the news much better than I was. No matter how hard I tried to hold myself together, I constantly found myself turning into a blubbering crying mess. Ben was Mr. Cool and Collected, or maybe it was that he was still dealing with the shock of hearing the “C word”.
We walked into the urologist’s office that Tuesday morning trying to be positive. Then the bad news came again. There wasn’t just one 2cm spot. There was another one of the same size hiding behind the cyst. Because of the location of each tumor, shaving them off the kidney wasn’t an option. The entire kidney needed to come out immediately.
But there’s that whole doctor’s love to go on vacation during the 4th thing, so we had to wait. An appointment was scheduled for the first available time upon the doctor’s return. I don’t know how Ben felt, but those were the longest 3 weeks of my life. I believe I experienced every emotion possible. One minute you’re planning your own family vacation, and the next you’re canceling your vacation so your 34 year old husband can have his cancerous kidney removed. It was a lot to digest in a short amount of time. It wasn’t that we were canceling our vacation that bothered me. It was the fact that this was the first time we were taking a real family vacation as a family of 4. The thought that something might happen to Ben before he could do something as minimal as taking his girls on vacation had my emotions hanging on my sleeve. Then the thoughts of missed birthdays, graduations, weddings…I was wrecked.
Monday, July 11th, Ben had a complete left kidney nephrectomy.
We were both extremely nervous as we drove to the hospital before dawn. The fear of surgery was written across the face of the man who has never been to the hospital for more than a test or ER visit. 3 hours later, the doctor sat with my mother-in-law and I and excitedly told us the kidney was gone and he was certain he “got it all in one shot.”
A couple days later the results from the lab tests came back saying the tumors were indeed malignant, and a 3rd very small tumor had already developed during the 3 weeks we waited for surgery. Those results were followed with one last bit of bad news, one of the tumors had slightly spread into the fatty tissue layer, so the cancer wasn’t completely encased in the kidney. Thankfully the doctor had been suspicious of that area and removed the fatty tissue in that area, too, but it means we have to watch more closely to make sure the cancer doesn’t return.
After 6 days in the hospital we are finally home with a new normal that involves scans every 3 months for the next 5 years. If no cancer cells are found after 5 years, Ben will finally be declared cancer free at the age of 39.
So much has happened in such a short time, and I’m not even sure if either of us have fully mentally digested it all. What I do know is we’re going to spend the next month while Ben recovers at home enjoying the fact we have all this time together as a family before Ellie returns to school. We’re going to be thankful the kidney is gone, and we’re not going to think about the possibility of cancer returning right now. We thought we were young enough to not worry about things like cancer, and life proved us wrong. We have been reminded of how precious life is, and how every second we have as a family is special because it could change in a moment’s time.
Hug your spouse, children, parents, significant other…whoever you may have…very tight. You never know when you will receive that news that makes you reevaluate every moment you have spent together hoping your time won’t be cut short.
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