Nothing in Salima Witt’s history would have suggested kidney cancer.
Salima was healthy and active, did not smoke or drink alcohol, was diligent with yearly checkups, blood work, and wellness tests, and she had none of the common symptoms of kidney cancer such as side pain, fatigue, or blood in the urine.
But after an otherwise ordinary ER visit in 2018 for an unrelated urinary tract infection, a sudden gut feeling prompted Salima to ask for a kidney scan. The ER doctor felt there was no reason for the scan, but, at Salima’s pressing, ordered a test. The ultrasound led to a CAT scan and ultimately confirmation of an 8.8 cm tumor on Salima’s left kidney.
“I had absolutely no symptoms. I was living my best life,” Salima said. “It was a real big shocker.”
With the sudden diagnosis, Salima, 45 years old at the time, found herself thrown into a new reality, both in terms of health and logistics. When phone calls to oncologists were met with months-long wait times to schedule an appointment, Salima made more calls, followed up, and checked in again and again.
“I am a doer. If there is a problem, you’ve got to take care of it, right? I was the squeaky wheel. I said, ‘I will wait in your lobby 10 hours.’”
Her persistence got her a meeting with a doctor at UCSD and her surgery was scheduled days after that. Her diagnosis, about two weeks after her initial scan, was stage 3 chromophobe-type renal cell carcinoma.
“It was very important to me. I was an advocate for my own health and very much in the process of it,” she said.
While recovering from her nephrectomy, Salima began reading about how she could best take care of her remaining kidney and help herself move forward.
“I knew I’d never really know the answer to how it happened,” she said. “But what can I do now to regain control?”
Her advice: “Take a deep breath and pause and say, ‘stay right here stay right now. Other people have gone through it. People are resilient. You are resilient.’”
While Salima had always been an active person who enjoyed the outdoors, she made it her mission to do more. She began a regular, purposeful exercise routine and made mindful food choices including eating more vegetables. In the three months leading up to her follow-up post-surgery CAT scan, her stamina increased and she began to have a more optimistic outlook.
Salima also had strong support from her husband, former NHL player Brendan Witt, and her children. Brendan in particular dove into new physical and diet regimens alongside Salima.
“We chug disgusting [vegetable] shakes,” Salima said. “He would say to me, ‘come on!’ Now I’m the one who says ‘come on!’ to him!”
There were moments when Salima felt, and still feels, anxious and depleted. But in those moments, she told herself to “get up and do what you can.”
Today, Salima says she is a stage 3 kidney cancer survivor in remission. Giving back to her communities has long-been an important aspect of Salima’s urge to do what she can and as a member of the Kidney Cancer Association’s new Patient & Caregiver Advisory Council, she is a voice for other kidney cancer patients and families.
“Hearing you have cancer, you don’t know what each day will bring. But stay in the moment because no one can take away this moment from you,” she said. “That’s what I’d tell myself. I’d tell someone else that, too.”
Salima recently participated in a “Virtual Town Hall: Kidney Cancer Care in the Time of COVID19” alongside KCA CEO and President Gretchen E. Vaughan and other advocacy leaders and medical experts. View that Town Hall here: https://www.facebook.com/totalhealthmeetings/videos/966144087177089/.