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This is a guest post by Brandon Butera, a stage IV kidney cancer patient and advocate. He lives with his wife, Maggie Valdes, in Houston, Texas. Watch more of their journey.

When we last gave an update to the KCA in November, Maggie and I were recovering from some difficult news: CT scans showed that my cancer was progressing rapidly, having spread throughout my body via my lymphatic system. After seeing the results, my oncologist Dr. Eric Jonasch and our team at MD Anderson Cancer Center suggested that the chemotherapy belzutifan was our best bet at curbing this progression. As usual, we deferred to the experts and agreed to their treatment strategy. So, with our December 30 wedding date approaching fast, we submitted the request for approval to my insurance company and awaited approval.

Much has happened since. Shortly after our update, insurance approved the belzutifan, and I began taking it immediately. For the first time, I was undergoing three treatments at once: Welireg (belzutifan), Lenvima (lenvatinib), and Keytruda (pembrolizumab). This depressing milestone came with its own set of issues and difficulties, as the multiple treatments combined with the cancer to wreak havoc on my body. In the weeks leading up to our wedding, we slapped “Band-Aids” on problems that we knew needed much more care, trying our best to get my body to the altar in one piece.

Fortunately for us, the “Band-Aids” did the trick. Maggie and I made it to our wedding weekend after a long year of worrying that we wouldn’t. And what a weekend it was.

The wedding was everything we wanted it to be. It was a joyous occasion, full of laughter, hugs, and an overwhelming wave of emotions. I fought back tears as my picture-perfect bride walked up the aisle. She let some out as we danced to Donna Summer’s “Last Dance”to close out the reception. Along the way, I made some poor attempts at spinning her on the dance floor, my friends tossed me and my wheelchair in the air a few times, and Maggie sang with the band to songs which I don’t think she even knew the words to. It was the perfect day, the kind of day you dream about but rarely get.

Throughout this cancer journey, “perfect” days have been hard to come by. Oftentimes, when my hopes and dreams fail to materialize, I think of cancer as a kleptomaniac more than anything else. It steals so much from us—moments, feelings, breaths. It often takes things just for the hell of it, stealing precious memories and hours for which it doesn’t even have a use. This is cancer in its most evil form. When it not only strikes physically, but emotionally, spiritually, mentally. When it robs you of the little things, those unexpected treasures in life that make us feel alive.

Well, when Maggie and I rode away from our reception in a pedicab, sharing a kiss and a smile as our friends and family cheered, we knew we had pulled a fast one on that klepto. We had the perfect day, one in which cancer could not rob even a moment of our joy. It was a time full of laughter and delight, devoid of stress and worry. For once, life was normal, even better than normal, and that was a fantastic feeling.

After recapping our special weekend on our drive back to Houston, Maggie and I prepared ourselves for a brutal week. I had CT scans the very next day, followed by all sorts of appointments. The scans showed a slight progression of my cancer. A slower progression than what we saw in November, but a progression nonetheless.

In the weeks since, my health has not improved. If anything, it has worsened. I have a laundry list of symptoms and side effects, ranging from the slightly irritating to the fully debilitating. Walking is as difficult as ever; and, on more days than not, I feel as though the bus that hits me every day decided to reverse and hit me again for good measure.

And yet I’m still here. In spite of cancer’s attempts to rob the days from me, I keep on living them. Not just surviving them—living them. I have beautiful memories from the past couple of months, moments in time which cannot be taken from me. I have a beautiful wife, who amazes me every day with her optimism and who refuses to stop pushing me to our next scan and appointment. And I have hope—a hope that one day this kleptomaniac will leave me alone once and for all.

Until then, we more modestly hope that the scans in a couple of weeks will show a further slowing of the cancer’s progression. Maybe after months of work in my body, the treatment has finally started to make its mark. I don’t want to get too greedy and say we could see a pause in the cancer’s growth, but my fingers are crossed behind my back. It’s about time we stole a win from cancer anyway.

Help Maggie and Brandon fundraise for kidney cancer research here.

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