Five years ago, Dawnia, who lives in Texas, was diagnosed with stage II kidney cancer at age 50. During a routine visit at her gynecologist’s office, the nurse practitioner was alarmed when she learned that Dawnia’s mother was recently diagnosed with kidney cancer. The nurse urged her to get an ultrasound which showed a 9×9 cm tumor. Dawnia credits her nurse practitioner’s suggestion of getting an ultrasound with saving her life. She has remained cancer-free following her nephrectomy. No chemotherapy or radiation was required. Dawnia had chest x-rays and abdominal CT scans every three to six months for two years as follow-up. If kidney cancer runs in your family, it is important to discuss it with your doctor so you can receive proper treatment.
Q: Tell us about your diagnosis.
A: In January of 2013, my mother, age 69, was alarmed by a large amount of blood in her urine. My dad took her to the urgent care clinic closest to their home. She was told she had a UTI and given antibiotics despite the fact she had no pain and was then sent home. Her hematuria continued after the round of antibiotics and I urged my parents to go to their primary care doctor for a second opinion.
An ultrasound showed a massive tumor on the left kidney. A nephrectomy was immediately performed, but the renal cell carcinoma had metastasized and she was diagnosed in stage IV. It was estimated that she had had the tumor for 18 to 20 years. Despite radiation and horrific rounds of targeted chemotherapy, we lost her on August 13, 2015 at the age of 71. I had the honor and privilege of being my mom’s sole caretaker the last two weeks of her life. It was a horrible, slow and painful death to witness.
In January of 2013, just a couple of weeks after my mom’s diagnosis, I was in my primary doctor’s office for my routine yearly physical and I updated my family history with my trusted physician of nine years. I asked if there was anything for me to be concerned about and she said, “No, kidney cancer isn’t one of the cancers that’s hereditary. You’re fine.” I left her office thinking I was “fine.”
Fortunately for me, I was in my gynecologist’s office in October of that same year, about nine months after my yearly physical with my primary care practitioner’s office. I updated my family history and shared it with the nurse practitioner my appointment was with that day. She showed concern at the diagnosis that my mom had been given and asked if I had been checked. I told her that my primary care practitioner is had assured me I was “fine”. My nurse practitioner wasn’t so ready to accept my primary care practitioner’s explanation and she sent me to a specialist for an ultrasound. That action by that nurse practitioner saved my life.
Q: What did the ultrasound reveal?
A: I had a 9×9 cm tumor on my right kidney and was told by my urologist to clear my calendar because I would be in recovery for the next month after my nephrectomy. The histopathology showed greater progression of the RCC than originally thought, but I was still diagnosed at stage II. My urologist estimated I had had the tumor for 8 to 10 years. He informed me that had I not received treatment when I did, that within a few short months I would have been in a fight for my life. I was only 50-years-old with two young adult daughters I love dearly. They know now that they will need to be checked at intervals decided upon by their physicians for the rest of their lives, because renal cell carcinoma most certainly can be hereditary.
Q: Tell us about your recovery.
A: Thankfully, I made a full recovery and I’m nearly five years cancer free. This story could have turned out very differently. I’m thankful everyday for the nurse practitioner who took the initiative to show a true interest in me as a patient. If it weren’t for her, I would have lost my life to renal cell carcinoma just as my mom had. I’ve found a new primary care practitioner and even though I’m in better hands, I certainly don’t take anything for granted.
Q: What advice would you give someone facing a cancer diagnosis?
A: The take home message I always tell anyone who’ll sit still long enough is: “Get your second opinions. Don’t be complacent. Be wary of doctors who brush off your concerns. We must be our own advocates when it comes to our health.”