My husband Aaron was diagnosed with stage 4 kidney cancer in February of 2018. A cough that just wouldn’t go away led to a chest x-ray that showed nodules in his lungs. The doctors ordered a CT scan that revealed a mass on his kidney.
I’ll never forget that life-changing phone call when Aaron called to tell me that the doctors suspected cancer. I took an emergency flight from Cleveland to be with him at the appointment. The team in Grand Rapids recommended that Aaron start Cabometyx, which worked to shrink his tumors for the first scan. But at the next scan, the doctor suggested switching to the combination of Opdivo and Yervoy.
Aaron breezed right through the first three infusions but by the fourth he was beginning to not feel well. He was very tired, not eating much, vomiting a lot and losing weight fast. He works for a crop farmer and was working the whole time through all of his treatments…I did convince him to stay home a few days when he was so exhausted and weak.
During this time God sent Dena Battle from KCCure into our lives via the Facebook communities. After seeing my posts in the group, Dena reached out and suggested that we consider seeking a second opinion with Dr. Ulka Vaishampayan, an RCC specialist at Karmanos Comprehensive Cancer.
I kicked around the idea that maybe she was right. But it wasn’t easy. We liked his oncologist and the nurses. Changing doctors seemed so daunting and going to specialist would require us to drive over two hours each way. I expected Aaron to be even more reluctant, but to my surprise, he agreed. He just asked if he could wait until after the harvest. WORK A HOLIC!!
I contacted Dena right away to let her know Aaron was on board. So the second opinion was put into action.
In the meantime…Aaron was getting more and more sick and finally, I convinced him and the doctor to give his body a break so September was his last treatment. Aaron’s parents drove with us for the second opinion on November 12. The trip down was a lot for Aaron and I think during the drive he was having doubts about the decision.
But then we met her. Our first impression was WOW!! She was so compassionate, so laid back, so knowledgeable yet so on it! Right before we left she had him do some blood work for her. At 11 am she called us personally to let us know that she was calling in a steroid prescription. His adrenals had been compromised by the immunotherapy and he needed the steroid to start to feel better.
He took his first dose on Tuesday at noon. By Wednesday he was helping my boys shovel the driveway and was ready to go out and shovel again. On Thursday he texted me to say that he had eaten a whole Big Mac Meal from McDonald’s!! He hadn’t eaten a whole meal in 2-3 months…He had lost 40 pounds!
We struggled with the decision to leave our first oncologist. In fact, we were considering just staying with him and driving to see Dr. V too! We didn’t want to hurt his feelings. But God took care of that problem for us too. At the next appointment, we learned that the oncologist was moving to another hospital and they wouldn’t take our insurance.
On December 18th, we met again with Dr. V. After looking at Aaron’s scans, she told us that even off treatment, Aaron is in full remission with no growth. I could feel the tears welling in my eyes as she told us. We were so thrilled, we almost left the hospital without getting the IV out of his arm for his scan!
Today, I am an Ambassador for KCCure and I help other caregivers and patients know how getting a second opinion saved my husband’s life. I know firsthand how hard it is to change doctors. Sharing our story can help others know that it’s possible for them too.
God heard the prayers, tears, and cries. He continues to hold us tight. We are forever grateful to Him for leading us to KCCure because I don’t know if Aaron would be here today if I hadn’t met Dena, who introduced us to Dr. Vaishampayan and Karmanos in Detroit!
Aaron’s work here on Earth is not done yet – he has so much to offer so many people including his family and friends! May God Bless you all.
Aaron and Kim Bunker
Kim Bunker is a member of KCCure’s Ambassador Team and Dr. Ulka Vaishampayan is a member of KCCure’s Scientific Advisory Board. We’re grateful to both of them for all that they do to help kidney cancer patients!