This is a guest blog by Keri Kirby, 47, cancer survivor. She lives in Missouri.
My journey began on Saturday, March 17, 2018. The day started out as normal, and I attended a church conference about 45 minutes away from my home. During the morning, I developed a severe and unbearable pain in my right side. I have a pretty high tolerance for pain, and my first thought was kidney stones, which I have had before, but this was something different. My urgent care doctor performed a couple of CT scans and determined I had a large mass on my kidney. At a follow up appointment, a urologist confirmed the mass, pretty certain it was cancer. After presenting my options, he recommended I get a second opinion, including another set of CT scans, an MRI, and a full-body bone scan.
I felt comfortable with my doctor at my second opinion appointment. He answered all my questions and made me feel like I was the only patient he had. He presented all my options, and we determined surgery was the best option. At this point, we were fairly confident that the mass was cancer, but had not spread.
There were several signs that I was not alone on this journey, and God was with me. These signs started early on and continue to this day. If I had not been at that church conference, I would not have met my urgent care physician, who dug deeper into what was causing my pain. She reached out to the urologist, who happened to be friends with my priest. While I was extremely nervous, I knew that my faith was only being strengthened with this journey, calling me to share my story and support others who are on a cancer journey. And knowing that my friends were already praying continuously made the journey so much smoother.
This whole time was blur, but I felt a calm around the rush of trying to find answers and develop a plan. My family and friends were a pillar of strength and support. I kept the news quiet for a few days, until I could get my mind right, so my family and I only told a few close people who are like family to us. They immediately started praying. I had a day out planned with two friends to celebrate my birthday. They asked what I wanted to do. I told them I wanted to go ahead with our plans – I needed a day away to focus on other things. My parents were taking a trip in Florida when this journey started, and offered support from miles away. Once they were back in town, they did not leave my side for my appointments and the surgery. My brother was on stand-by to accompany me to doctor appointments. He was the one who kept everyone updated on surgery day and provided a place to stay during those first follow up visits.
My surgery was set for the end of April but on our way home, the office called and said the schedule changed and my surgery was set for the following week. I was in shock that things were moving so quickly but tried to keep up with it all and stay strong.
I had surgery on April 12, 2018 and my tumor and right kidney were removed. That day, I became a cancer survivor! I had follow ups every three months, then every six months, and now annual exams.
At first, it took me a bit of time to become comfortable with the title “survivor,” as I didn’t have to endure the chemotherapy, radiation, and other side effects. My surgery was scheduled so quickly and things moved at such a quick pace, I didn’t feel like I was worthy enough to be called a survivor.
Now, I am comfortable with and proud to share my story. I have a friend, also a cancer survivor, who has helped me realize I am a survivor. I have two other individuals in my life right now, undergoing chemo and radiation, they have also helped me realize I am a survivor. Both have told me that I provide hope and strength. I believe sharing my story helps fellow cancer patients and others going through tough times know that they are not alone on their journey.