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This is a guest post by Rachel O’Leary.

Rachel O’Leary frosts bundt cakes for her Kidney Cancer Awareness Month fundraiser.

In March of 2022 I was going to see my orthopedist for chronic lower back pain that I had been having on my right side. This is pain I had been experiencing for about six months at this point, but was never of great concern to me. I had been suffering from so many other health anomalies — the largest being over 15 pounds of unexplained weight loss — that back pain was the least of my worries. But, being 5’6 and weighing a shocking 95 pounds, I figured that maybe it was time to finally check it out.

My orthopedist thought it best to order a few X-Rays to see what was going on. Lo and behold, there wasn’t a single problem with my back. My bones were great, my muscles were intact, and the radiologist said my x-rays were completely clean. I’m sure there are those of you who understand my disappointment of this diagnosis, or better yet — lack thereof. For anyone who has been through the ringer of unsolved health issues, I am sure you can commiserate. It’s not that we are hoping for bad news, but rather in search of validation to stop the feeling of insanity.

During my follow-up appointment though to go over the X-Rays, that validation was finally served. It turns out that while there was nothing wrong with my musculoskeletal system, the radiologist had failed to see a large mass inside of my right kidney. The exact spot where my lower back pain also happened to be radiating from. Thankfully my orthopedist did not miss this and ordered me an ultrasound and MRI immediately. I could see the look of panic and concern start to set in on my mom’s face, but my doctor kept reassuring us he was certain it was just a cyst, and that healthy 25-year-old girls don’t just get kidney cancer.

“Nothing is impossible, and if anything this simply made me a firmer believer in checkups, perseverance, and listening to your gut.”

After my ultrasound and MRI, it was determined that it was a solid mass, and that there was no way it could be a cyst. But the nephrologist that I started to see then assured me it must be an adenoma, and that the likelihood of it being cancer was just out of the question. He decided to refer me to a urologist anyways. The urologist ordered my CT scan, which from the results I was told that although this 4 inch mass did not seem to be very fatty like a usual adenoma, the idea of it being cancer was still too unlikely considering my lack of family history, my age, sex, race, etc. etc. etc. But this supposed adenoma was still too large to stay in my kidney, so a partial nephrectomy needed to happen anyways. They said once they removed the mass, they would biopsy it just to be certain it was what they thought it was, and that the likelihood of it being cancer still seemed to be out of the question.

So, on May 11, 2022, I had part of my right kidney removed and one week later received the results that the mass was renal cell carcinoma. I could tell how uncomfortable and in shock my urologist was telling me this information. It turned out that that this cancer had been growing inside of my kidney for the past 3-4 years. For weeks I had been reassured by an orthopedist, a nephrologist, a urologist, a handful of nurses, and even my gynecologist at my annual check up that people like me just didn’t get kidney cancer. Well, I guess you can call me an overachiever (HA), because I beat the odds. Fortunately enough, the entirety of the cancer was removed, and at my 6-month CT scan my kidney was still clear.

Recovery was hard, and coming to terms with being labeled as a “cancer survivor” was harder. Even though I felt sick to my stomach and overwhelmed with a sense of grief, there was also this veil of confusion that seemed to lift from my body. I finally had answers and explanations to my weight loss, my back pain, and a lot of my other medical mysteries.

It has been one year since I embarked on that rigmarole of a journey. My personal experience made me realize the lack of awareness that surrounds certain types of cancer in people of younger ages. Nothing is impossible, and if anything this simply made me a firmer believer in checkups, perseverance, and listening to your gut. I want to be able to share that knowledge and help support others going through similar experiences as myself, and I figured what better way to do that than to participate in Kidney Cancer Awareness Month.

Rachel announced her fundraiser on Instagram. Visit her fundraising page.

I am a self-taught baker who loves to create her own recipes and my friends and family have always told me I am missing out by not selling my products. One of my most well received treats has always been my Bundt cakes (they’re my own knock off, taste alike version of Nothing Bundt Cakes) I figured I would finally take the initiative to sell them but give all of the proceeds away to the Kidney Cancer Association. So far it has been going really well, and it looks like I will be baking up a storm for the month of March. It feels good to know I’m spreading joy through two of the things that matter most to me – baking for others and helping a good cause.

Visit Rachel’s fundraising page.

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