I know my kidney cancer journey has been tough but I am hopeful that my story will bring hope to others.
My journey began on February 16, 2015, when I was 26 weeks pregnant. I was experiencing a cough that continued to get worse. I was scheduled to have a lung procedure to see what was causing the cough. My high-risk OB ordered an ultrasound the night before. She wanted to make sure my baby was doing well enough for the procedure. During the ultrasound, the ultrasound tech asked me if I had any trouble with my kidney. I told her no and she continued to complete the ultrasound.
Then next morning before the procedure, my doctor walked into the waiting room. She looked at me with a serious face. That is when I heard the words, “you have kidney cancer.” My first thought wasn’t for myself – but for the well being of my baby.
During the lung procedure, a tumor in my lung popped in my airway causing me to stop breathing. My high-risk OB rushed me in the operating room. She conducted an emergency C-section. During that time, doctors were rushing to move the tumor out of the way so I could receive oxygen. My baby, who weighed 1 pound 15 ounces, was rushed to the NICU. Once the doctors were able to stabilize me, they went out to inform my parents in the waiting room.
My mom called my husband who was doing inventory at his store. She informed him that he needed to come to the hospital quickly so he could sign forms to transport our baby girl to Texas Children’s Hospital. The doctor informed my husband that our baby was very small and that she only had a 20% chance of surviving. Later that evening, my baby girl was transported to Texas Children’s Hospital. Doctors gave us so much hope there. She stayed in the NICU for 78 days. We were so happy when she was able to come home.
Once doctors were able to stabilize me in the ICU, my family came to see me. I had to be intubated because of the trauma my lungs had endured. My mom says I kept grabbing my stomach, like I knew my baby was no longer there. My husband rubbed my feet but I had no reaction to it. My mom says she told me “your baby is going to be okay.”
Two days later, I woke up. I did not panic but just kept looking around. A few minutes later, my doctor came to my bedside. She told me “you have kidney cancer but I know you are going to be alright.” I continued to look at her since I still had the breathing tube. Later that evening, the nurse removed my breathing tube. It was so hard to talk. I was so weak that I could not move. My family came in to see me during visiting hours in the ICU. I could tell that they have been crying.
The next day, the oncologist came in and gave me his recommendation. He explained to me that he could give me targeted therapy there but he knew I would be better off at MD Anderson with someone who specialized in kidney cancer. He told me his nurse would get all the paperwork ready for it to be sent to MD Anderson.
Scans revealed that my kidney cancer had spread to my lungs and to my brain. But when I met with my oncologist at MDAnderson – I told him that I wasn’t going to give up. That we were going to fight this and he has been with me every step of the way.
On February 16, it was a bittersweet day for my daughter and me in our journey of hope. My daughter turned 4 years old and I celebrated living with Stage 4 Kidney Cancer for 4 years.
I know my journey has been tough but I want to tell everyone out there that the words “you have kidney cancer” are not a death sentence. I hope that sharing my journey will bring hope to so many other people fighting this disease.
After a long and courageous fight, Joanne lost her battle with kidney cancer in December 2019. We’re grateful for how she inspired us all. She lives on in our hearts.