Four years ago, Joanne Romero, who lives in Texas, was diagnosed with stage 4 kidney cancer when she was 26 weeks pregnant. Despite her challenges, Joanne remains positive and hopes her story serves as an inspiration to others.
My journey began on Feb. 16, 2015. I was currently 26 weeks pregnant. I was experiencing a cough that continued to get worse. That day, I was scheduled to have a lung procedure to see what was causing the cough. My high-risk OB ordered an ultrasound the night before. She wanted to make sure my baby was doing well enough for the procedure. During the ultrasound, the ultrasound tech asked me if I had any trouble with my kidney. I told her no and she continued to complete the ultrasound.
Then next morning before the procedure, my high-risk OB walked into the waiting room. She looks at me with a serious face. She informs me that I have a large tumor on my kidney. That is when I heard, “You have kidney cancer.” I was more concerned about the well-being of my baby. The words “You have kidney cancer did not sink in.
During the procedure, the tumor in my lung popped in my airway, causing me to stop breathing. My high-risk OB rushed in the operating room. She conducted an emergency C-section. During that time, doctors were rushing to move the tumor out of the way so I could receive oxygen. My baby, who weighed 1 pound 15 ounces, was rushed to the NICU. Once the doctors were able to stabilize me, they went out to inform my parents in the waiting room.
My dad says they were moved to a private room. They were informed that doctors would come in and talk to them. My mom says at that moment that something went terribly wrong. My high-risk OB and two doctors walked in very quiet. Then, my high-risk OB informed them that she had good news and bad news. She informed them that the good news was that their granddaughter was born and she would be fine. My dad then asked, “What about my daughter?” My high-risk OB responded, “I’m not sure. We have to wait and see, but it doesn’t look good.”
My mom called my husband who was doing inventory at his store. She informed him that he needed to come to hospital quickly so he could sign forms to transport our baby girl to Texas Children’s Hospital. A little while after, my husband arrived. He was escorted to see our baby girl in the NICU. The NICU doctor informed my husband that was she very small. He went on to tell my husband, “she only has 20 percent chance of living.” Later that evening, my baby girl was transported to Texas Children’s Hospital. Doctors gave us so much hope there. She stayed in the NICU for 78 days. We were so happy that our baby girl was coming home.
Once doctors were able to stabilize me in the ICU, my family came to see me. I had to be incubated because of the trauma my lungs had endured. My mom says I kept grabbing my stomach, like if I knew my baby was no longer there. My husband rubbed my feet but I had no reaction to it. My mom says she told me “Your baby is going to be OK.” Two days later, I woke up. I did not panic but just kept looking around. A few minutes later, my high-risk OB came to my bedside. She tells me “You have kidney cancer but I know you are going to be alright.” I continued to look at her since I still had the breathing tube. Later that evening, the nurse removed my breathing tube. It was so hard to talk. I was so weak that I could not move. My family came in to see me during visiting hours in the ICU. I could tell that they have been crying.
The next day, the oncologist came in and told what my plan was. He explained to me that he could give me the oral chemo there but knew I would be better off at MD Anderson. He told me his nurse would get all the paperwork ready for it to be sent to MD Anderson. Once I got out of ICU, I had a many tests done (MRI and PET Scans). Unfortunately, that’s when I learned the kidney cancer has spread from my right kidney to my right lung and brain.
February 16th, was a bittersweet day for my daughter and I in our journey of hope. My daughter turned 4-years-old and I celebrated living with Stage 4 Kidney Cancer for 4 years. I know my journey has been tough but I am hopeful that my journey brings hope to others.
To see how you can get involved during Kidney Cancer Awareness Month, go to www.kidneycancer.org/kidney-cancer-awareness-month