Bruce Hill and his family are avid hikers, so when he started having trouble keeping up with his kids on the trails, his wife Susan encouraged him to see a doctor.
“I was pale, my strength was pretty much shot. I felt run down and tired, I’d need naps and coffee in the afternoon to make it past 7 pm at night. Bad night sweats. Clothes were getting big. I’m not normally like this,” Bruce said.
Intense pain in his abdomen led to an ultrasound and CT scan, where a mass was found on Bruce’s right kidney and small nodes were found in his lungs. Bruce was diagnosed with stage IV renal cell carcinoma (RCC) in 2017.
“Once the tumor was out, in 2-3 weeks I was back to normal. The tumor was definitely sucking the life out of me.”
Bruce and his wife Susan tackled disease management early, adjusting their diets and workout routines as his treatments began.
Bruce also investigated and found further information and support from a variety of sources. Bristol Myers Squibb, the pharmaceutical company that makes his Opdivo (nivolumab) treatments, shared more information and tools for managing treatment and side effects. His insurance company assigned him a health manager who called him after every scan or recommended doctors. He and Susan kept up with family, friends, and others in the kidney cancer community through Instagram.
Bruce also read as much as he could about kidney cancer. Through the online forum smartpatients.com, he learned about the Kidney Cancer Research Program (KCRP) funded through the Department of Defense’s Congressionally Directed Medical Research Program.
Bruce, who was in the US Navy for 6.5 years and a member of the reserves for 13 years, was part of a panel of experts evaluating KCRP proposals for funding.
“Our job was to evaluate the impact to the patient community if a proposed study came to fruition,” he said. “I got a ton out of that. Just being in a room with 20 genius PhDs and MDs actively trying to figure out kidney cancer was cool.”
Bruce has returned to Washington D.C. several times to advocate for more cancer research funding.
Meanwhile, Bruce and his care team continued to monitor his cancer. He received scans every three months to monitor his lungs and track the treatment’s progress. Bruce credits his oncologist, Dr. Chung-Han Lee at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York, for helping him and Susan handle their “scanxiety.”
“Sitting in the office waiting for him to walk in… those 5 minutes are nerve wracking,” Bruce said. “He’s good. He walks in and tells us [the results] right away, before he sits down.”
Through his diagnosis, treatment, and even now, Bruce and Susan worked to make life as normal as possible, focusing on spending time as a family with their son and daughter.
Today Bruce’s scans are stable. He keeps up with new developments in kidney cancer research and treatment and has visited Washington D.C. several times to advocate for more cancer research funding.
“You’ve got to stay vigilant, get follow up scans,” Bruce said. “But I’m much more interested in making memories through experiences… trying to take more advantage of what’s around me and the experiences we can create through doing things.”
Bruce and Susan Hill are both members of the KCA’s Patient and Caregiver Advisory Council.