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With Kidney Cancer, the Journey and Gifts Continue

Cancer warrior Holly Johnston

I’m still vertical. Eleven years next month, I will have been living with kidney cancer—renal cell carcinoma to be exact. When first diagnosed, I had NO CLUE how to process the emotional attacks. Staged at 1-b at the start of this ride, it has morphed into many stages, and I don’t ask anymore. Why bother asking? Each step forward is a gift. The wrapping paper has been torn, crumpled, wet and ribbon tied in knots, but somehow, gratitude allows the present to be gorgeous. And I mean living in the present moment, gorgeous.

In my case, cancer research has done wonders. I’ve been on every kidney cancer drug since the beginning. Wait, let’s go back to the gift. December 23rd all those years ago, I had laparoscopic surgery removing my right kidney. I was home Christmas Eve night, not believing what had just been thrown at me. More importantly, my 10 and 12-year-old’s got their Christmas gift (me) on time and in my bed! They tell me it was their best Christmas ever. Mine too, if you want to know the truth. That’s the day I restarted and recharged the lights inside my body.

Apparently, many a folk is done at that point. After removal of a kidney, I mean. The theory is, take out the invaders and you minimize the risk of it coming back. I’m not like others, you see. Cancer liked my body, so it chose to high-tail to the other kidney. And now we go back to taking and infusing every kidney cancer drug out there. Every present came wrapped up nicely to me in the form of a pill or an infusion. Some were taken back in disgust after unlivable side effects. Others I looked at as a maintenance drug and treated the side effects minimally. Either way, seven drugs were offered to me where there were NONE to choose from 11 years ago.

There came a point of no return for me, however. No more long lines to deal with. No more options for choice of colors or style and certainly all batteries were exhausted. My oncologist started telling me about a clinical trial. I was under the opinion that clinical trials were for the last strapped days of your life. What do you mean, “NOT approved by the FDA?!” But what I found out is they have saved so many people. And they are under massive scrutiny for safety. My oncologist looked me in the eye and said, “I can’t tell you to choose this option, Holly, but you are fairly healthy, and I am out of options. If you want to apply to be in this clinical trial, call me.”

Out of options? What?

Sealing my mind off to the world for several days, I realized this stepping stone had been placed right in front of me where when I looked before, there was nothing before me. Your mind, your attitude is more important than you can imagine. You must rise above the fear, pain, neon red warning lights and go with your faith in yourself.

The gifts are there. See them and embrace them with open arms.

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Holly Johnston is an 11-year kidney cancer survivor, a photographer and writer, and a lover of life.

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