This is a guest post by Bonnie Davidoff, a kidney cancer patient, aunt to the most amazing nieces and nephews, and arts enthusiast based in Olympia, Washington.
In 2017, I was 40 years old and healing from brain surgery. I thought to myself: “Now I can live my life to the fullest.”
I scheduled a trip to Bora Bora. I went back to school for a master’s degree. Life was looking up. In 2020, I left an old life behind and moved to a new city in a new state and began a new job during the pandemic. Beginning a new career via Zoom was difficult, but I was still looking forward to my “new and better” life.
A few weeks into my new life, I realized I had to use the bathroom a ton – every 20 minutes. After a few weeks of thinking I had a urinary tract infection, a CT scan said otherwise.
I received a call from my doctor around 8:00 pm and my gut told me this was not going to be good. It’s not often one receives a call from their GP in the evening. She started out by saying I had a massive fibroid in my uterus. Then she said: “We also found a mass in your kidney suspicious of cancer.”
I couldn’t believe it. I was prepared for a fibroid but not kidney cancer. I was 44 years old and eagerly ready to begin my new life. Instead, I had a hysterectomy in December 2020 for the fibroid and in June 2021 I had a nephrectomy. My diagnosis was clear cell renal cell carcinoma.
Between December 2020 and June 2021 was a pretty stressful time. Lots of things had happened at once and, after brain surgery and a fibroid, the thought of losing a kidney was devastating because I didn’t know what it would mean. And because of the pandemic, I wouldn’t have my family with me. The thought of waking up in the hospital by myself with a disease I didn’t understand was scary too.
To manage the anxiety, I started breaking things down so they weren’t so big in my mind. Step by step, I learned what kidney cancer was. Then what a nephrectomy was. I talked to my doctor. Through bursts of anxiety, getting information and facts and figuring out what to do with each small situation to make it better helped. Reading the stories of others with kidney cancer also helped.
Mediation, breathing exercises, and staying active with an indoor treadmill helped me manage the anxiety too. I also embraced theater and dance as my safe spaces. Singing Broadway tunes and dancing around my apartment would cheer me up. I realized that what made me feel good before cancer still made me feel good.
And as it turns out, living with one kidney isn’t so different. I’ve cut out salt and try to stay very hydrated. I’ve always exercised and walking at least 30 minutes every day makes me feel better too.
Through my journey, the more I learned about my diagnosis, the better I felt. When anyone hears cancer, it’s like a fight-or-flight response and the thought that you might die can create so much tension that we feel stuck.
I learned so much thanks to kidney cancer websites and group discussions. Knowing that I’m not the only one with cancer, that most people are ok, that there are a lot of clinical trials available, and that people can live with one kidney showed me that having kidney cancer doesn’t mean I’m going to die and there are lots of ways to handle any situation I come across. My anxiety has lessened and I am again looking forward to my new future.
I actually learned long before I had any health issues that living life to best of our ability is important. I came out of the closet when I was 21, so from a young age I questioned things. Coming through the LGBT issues, tumors, cancer, and other health issues, I felt like a warrior and it gave me the understanding that I’m lucky because I’m alive. Instead of making bucket lists for later, I think about what I can do to make myself happy now.
That’s why I traveled and continued my education and career. And even though the pandemic made it difficult, I made my own community in this new city. My new scars tell a story and my new body is proof that we are all warriors, I will make it through this and I can’t wait to see what the future holds. Next up: the sky is the limit. Thanks to all, and keep going.