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This is a guest post by Kelly Hudak. Kelly is a wife, mom, and medical device rep based in Charlotte, North Carolina. 

Spring of 2022 was an exciting time in our family – we celebrated my daughters 1st birthday, my 33rd birthday, I had just started a new job, and my husband Matt and I were discussing expanding our family.

Due to some issues during my first pregnancy, my obstetrician ordered an ultrasound to check on everything before we started trying for baby #2. During that ultrasound, an incidental finding of a 4 cm mass was discovered on my right kidney. That same week, I had  CT and MRI scans that indicated the mass was suspected renal cell carcinoma (RCC). Within a few days, surgery was scheduled and on July 26, 2022, I had a radical nephrectomy to remove my right kidney. Due to the location of the mass, my urologist thought a full kidney removal was the best option versus a partial.  A few days later, pathology came back confirming the mass was cancer – grade 2 clear cell RCC.

Fortunately, since the cancer was contained to the kidney, my doctor now considers me “in no need of treatment,” though I will have scans for years to come to make sure it has not returned or spread elsewhere in my body.

Even with a good prognosis, being told you have cancer is a traumatic event, one in which patients should be provided with mental health resources to help them cope with their diagnosis but sadly, that is not the standard of care.

For me, my whole world was turned upside down in just 4 short weeks.  Between doctor appointments, scans, second opinions, work, caring for my family, the surgery prep, and surgery itself, I really did not have the time to process what I was going through. On top of that, I don’t fit the average kidney cancer patient demographic, which meant I had a difficult time finding people who could relate to what I was experiencing.

“Kelly, it’s okay to cry. You’re allowed to be sad.”

I have had a wonderful support system and have truly been overwhelmed by the love and support I’ve received during this experience but sometimes there can be a toxic positivity – the idea that you should stay positive, only focus on positive things, and basically reject anything that could prompt negative thoughts or feelings –around cancer. When people heard the news, they would immediately say things like “you got this”, “think positive”, and “you’re so brave”. Though I know those words came from a good place, they really impacted me because I felt like I wasn’t allowed to feel any emotion but bravery or that if I didn’t think positively then I would somehow manifest this cancer into coming back. On the outside, I was putting on a show of being this tower of strength when on the inside, I was really struggling.

It wasn’t until a conversation with my mom a week after surgery that I heard what I really needed to hear: “Kelly, it’s okay to cry. You’re allowed to be sad.”

In that moment, I realized that I had been holding so much in; it was okay not to be strong ALL the time. I needed to give myself space to grieve and process my new normal. Grief doesn’t just apply to death; it applies to other types of loss as well. For me, hearing my diagnosis meant grieving over what my life could have been without it.

I am only a few weeks post-op so processing my diagnosis and making space to grieve is still very much a work in progress and some days are better than others, but there are several resources I have utilized to help me navigate this. First, I have leaned heavily on my faith; trusting that I am not alone in this battle. I also found a therapist to provide me the tools to help me overcome some of my fears and anxiety because I refuse to let the fear of cancer returning steal my joy.

Lastly, to seek support and foster connections, I turned to social media where I found Kayla Bulkey, Annamarya Scaccia, and Katie Coleman. These ladies and I are similar in age, live similar lifestyles, and were all diagnosed with kidney cancer. Connecting with them has made me feel heard and given me both encouragement and hope. I am so grateful to have found a community of individuals that could relate to what I am going through and the thoughts and emotions that come with it.

If you are going through something similar, know you are NOT alone. Know that every emotion you are feeling is valid and allow yourself to feel those things. Make space to grieve and process, find your community, come up with a plan of what you need and don’t be afraid to ask for help or reach out – we are all here.

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