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This is a guest post by Maggie Valdes, 26, a New Orleans native living in Houston, Texas.

After living in Dallas for four years, I made the decision last May to move down to Houston to be closer to my boyfriend, Brandon Butera. What weird timing this was.

A few months after I moved, Brandon started experiencing severe pain in his back and side. When the pain did not improve, and in fact worsened, I drove him to the ER. Scans showed that he had a large mass on his kidney. At first, the doctors believed that the mass was likely an abscess caused by a kidney infection. They prescribed antibiotics to Brandon and sent us home. But, after 30 days of fever and constant weight loss, Brandon went back to the hospital for a biopsy.

At only 26 years old, Brandon was diagnosed with Stage 3 Unclassified Renal Cell Carcinoma (RCC) with papillary features.

He quickly underwent a radical nephrectomy in September 2021 to remove his kidney and the over 10cm tumor. After recovering for a few months, Brandon went in for his follow-up CT scans. The scans showed a slightly enlarged para-aortic lymph node, so we transferred his care to M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, Texas, so that we could see a kidney cancer specialist in the event that this turned out to be the cancer recurring, which it was.

We are currently in the hands of Dr. Eric Jonasch and his wonderful team at MD Anderson. Dr. Jonasch has been truly fantastic. He has answers to any and all of our questions. He always takes the time to give us his thoughts and guide us through his reasoning. He has been logical and systematic in his decision-making, and he has really put us at ease, as we know we are in the absolute best hands. Oanh Pham is the most amazing nurse practitioner. She is extremely responsive, helpful, and is always a message away for any questions or concerns we have. She gets things approved by insurance, so that we don’t have to fight those battles ourselves.

We understand that Brandon does not fall into the category of patients with clear-cell RCC, where there’s been a ton of research contributing to effective treatments. Given that March was Kidney Cancer Awareness Month, I wanted to do something to generate awareness, but I also wanted to do something that could directly impact Brandon and other people with his type of cancer. I thought contributing to research through fundraising could be super impactful. Who knows how close researchers are to finding additional treatments for this disease? We know that kidney cancer research has been traditionally underfunded, and we are hoping to play a small part in changing that.

Our fundraiser for kidney cancer research has absolutely surprised Brandon and me. Seeing how loved we are and how huge our support system is – we had no idea what kind of response we would get, and now we’ve raised over $50,000!

Maggie and Brandon’s fundraiser surpassed their expectations.

Some words of wisdom to future fundraiser goers: We learned that the best way to raise money is to slowly spread the word over time. Instead of posting the fundraiser on all of social media and texting everyone in one day, we found out it was best to start by texting family and friends, and then to slowly post on various social media over time. Spreading out the messaging allowed us to remind people who may have gotten the text, but forgot to donate immediately. 

I never thought we would be able to raise this much money in our first fundraiser. All of our family and friends have been so generous. Seeing all of the messages and donations has made us emotional many times over the course of this month. 

We still have such a long road ahead of us. But for now, we are just enjoying spending so much time together – going on frequent walks, cooking together, hanging with friends, traveling to visit family and friends in New Orleans when Brandon is feeling up to it. Although one of the hardest parts about this experience is not being with our families and a lot of our friends (as many of them still reside in New Orleans), we are truly thankful that we live in Houston, since it has one of the best and biggest medical centers in the world. Things in life don’t always work out as you expect, but we are optimistic about the future and hope to play a small part in defeating this disease.

You can see Maggie’s fundraiser here, and learn more about setting up your own fundraiser here.

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