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My Kidney Cancer Team and the Road to NED

Mike Venable

By Mike Venable

Picture Paul Pierce onstage in the bright, white wash of a spotlight: “Thank you for supporting the Springer Opera House, Georgia’s Historic. State. Theater.”

There’s robust applause from the audience and the curtain starts to rise.

“Mike, you’ve got a 4 cm tumor on your left kidney and there’s a better than 90% chance that it’s cancer.”

Jill and me sitting in my office at the magazine, with the door closed and Dr. Michael Lake on the speakerphone. No script, no lines, no direction and no idea what lay ahead.

That was over 7 years ago. Such a short time in a life. Yet, a virtual lifetime of pain, anxiety, financial strain, fear, hope, tears of joy, tears of sorrow, 15 incisions, and epic highs and lows.

But I have a medical dream team, fine doctors who are the reason I’m classed as no evidence of disease (NED). I love these guys, much like a soldier loves the ones he’s fought beside. My family practice physician, Dr. Clark Gillett, has helped me to realize that I have sleep apnea and has been there for me during all my hospitalizations, trying to ride herd on the long list of medications I’ve had to take.

Dr. Raj Alappan is my nephrologist. Although I can only understand about every fifth word he says, partly from his strong Indian accent and partly because he’s just so damned smart, he has helped me take good care of my remaining kidney.

Dr. Granville Batte is my radiologist. Having one person who knows you to read every CT or MRI scan is a very comforting thing. And neurosurgeons Dr. Michael Gorum and Dr. Marc Goldman have each performed major surgeries on my spine.

On Saturday morning, October 8, 2011, I woke up with considerable weakness in my right leg and foot. I called Mike Gorum’s cell phone, and he told me to head straight to the Medical Center where his partner Dr. Goldman would meet me. Once I got to the hospital, and they had me prepped for surgery, Mike appeared at the head of my bed. He had turned around while on his way to a University of Alabama football game so he could talk to me and brief his partner about my condition. They figured I was a couple of hours at most away from losing my legs and being confined to a wheelchair. Roll Tide!

Medical Oncologist/Hematologist Dr. Andy Pippas. I don’t even know where to begin. We have spent a lot of time together during these past 5 years. There are a couple of things I’d like to tell you about Andy. He touches his patients. Not an emotional touch, but he lays his hands on you. Sometimes I think cancer patients feel like some kind of pariah. Maybe people think they’re contagious or something. Andy gets in there. Close. Once he even asked me to blow my breath in his face to see if that might give him a clue as to what was going on with me.

And I’ve said this time and time again. Andy Pippas is the least egotistical doctor I’ve ever known. All the times I suggested that I needed to see someone who sees dozens or hundreds of cases of kidney cancer more than Andy sees in a year were met with, “Tell me what I can do to help you.” Dr. Pippas has used his significant influence in the oncology community to help me get in many doors for consultation as we’ve made our way through this.

My story is a message of hope, about teamwork. About faith in God and faith in one’s fellow man. Most things in life can be a blessing and curse. Cancer is certainly a curse, but in my life, it has been an almost indescribable blessing. Through my writings and because of the overwhelming response, I have been able to witness my funeral, while standing on top of the dirt with the attendees.

I don’t recall any of the pain I have been in over the past 7 years, but oddly, I have been able to remember almost every good thing that has happened to me.

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