Susan from Alberta, Canada, was diagnosed with stage 1 kidney cancer 12 years ago. In 2002, she lost her father and aunt to colon cancer. That difficult year didn’t prepare her for her own journey four years later.
Q: Tell us about your diagnosis.
A: September 18, 2006, less than one month before my 26th birthday, the day the word “cancer” came my way.
My symptoms started early June 2006. I generally felt unwell and had constant stomach aches and nausea. By the end of June, I was vomiting nearly all day long. I had seen doctor after doctor for seven weeks and had been told it was just a bad flu bug. I had lost 30 pounds. Finally, I got into see family doctor who said something didn’t seem right and sent me for an ultrasound. The day after my ultrasound, the doctor called me directly and said I needed to see a urologist. There was a mass on my right kidney and he didn’t know what it was.
A month later, on September 18, the urologist walked into the room, his eyes stuck on the floor. I squeezed my mom’s hand because I had no idea what was in store. The doctor held up the MRI X-ray and said “I want you to look at this.” He pointed and said there was a tumor on my right kidney that was 4.2cm by 6cm in size, about half of my kidney. I felt the blood drain from my face and everything after that is a blur, even now. My mom said that I looked at the doctor and told him “Get it out! Just get it out!” In that moment I found a strength and resilience I had never known before. All I knew was that my mom needed me; she had already lost two of the closest people to her, she couldn’t lose me too.
Q: What kind of treatment did you receive?
A: Two months later, on November 15, I had a radical right nephrectomy. A biopsy confirmed it was clear cell renal cell carcinoma and my doctor said I was his youngest patient ever with renal cancer. Because I had been 25 at my diagnosis, I had to undergo a lot of genetic testing to find out why I had that type of cancer. Two years of testing and it was concluded by the genetic counsellor it was “just a fluke.”
Twelve years later almost to the day, I am healthy, cancer-free, married and have a three-year-old son. I wait for the day when my son is old enough to ask what my scar is from; I will tell him it’s from the day God gave mommy a second life.
Q: What advice do you have for someone going through a similar situation?
A: 1.) Ask questions and record everything so you can remember what the doctor says. It will also serve as a journal for you down the road.
2.) Be kind to yourself. There will be bad days, hard days, but there will be many good days as well so enjoy those when they come.
3.) Let your close loved ones know when you are having a bad day, don’t keep your feelings to yourself. In my situation, I had to be the “strong” one for my mom and sister but at night, in secret, I fell apart and that was an unnecessary burden on me. I didn’t know how strong I was until being strong was the only choice I had.