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Patient Stories

Voice of Kidney Cancer – Michelle’s Story

My name is Michelle Morris and I am 46 years old.  I have been married for 21 years to Gregory Morris (age 54) and we have two sons, Trevor (age 20) and Gunnar (age 15). This is my cancer story.

I was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis when I was 38 years old.  I hurt all over, all the time.  I would report each month that I went to my rheumatologist what joints were hurting.  I started having this left flank pain that radiated around to my groin.  I thought it was hip pain and knew that my rheumatologist would know what to do.  She kept telling me that is was not my RA.  This went on for over a year, maybe more, but she didn’t seemed concerned about it.  Next, I developed a terrible cough. That is when she referred me to a pulmonologist because RA can affect your lungs.

My pulmonologist tried several different kinds of inhalers, thinking I had developed asthma later in life.  He sent me for a sleep study and got me set up on CPAP when it showed my oxygen levels were dropping too low during the night.  Nothing was working.  Next he said he wanted to do a chest CT to make sure we weren’t missing anything.  I went for the CT and asked the tech (who I knew) how it looked.  He said he couldn’t discuss the results, they had to be read by the radiologist and then sent to my doctor.  I think often now of how thankful he must have been to not be the one required to tell me I have cancer.

I had that CT scan on a Friday and the nurse called me to see if I could come in Monday to go over the results.  His office was on my way home from work, so I just went by myself.  I was used to going to appointments by myself.  This one I didn’t need to do alone.  My pulmonologist sat me down and explained to me that I have kidney cancer that has spread into my lungs, thus the cough.  He and the nurse hugged me as I left the appointment, with a plan to see an oncologist and set up a biopsy.  I already knew that this meant stage IV cancer and I was in shock.

I went to my car and drove over to an area in the parking lot that didn’t have any cars.  My husband was at work (he is a Georgia History teacher) so I called my mom and dad.  I told her what the doctor had told me and she started crying.  She has recently fought and won her battle with breast cancer so she knew what a tough journey I had coming.  I was still in shock and didn’t cry until later when I was by myself.  My mom asked me to call Cancer Treatment Centers when I got home so I could get an appointment.  The date was October 9, 2017.  I will never forget that date, it is seared into my mind.  I was outside still on the phone with CTCA when my husband got home.  I sat him down on the tailgate of his truck so we could talk alone and told him about the cancer.  We told our boys before we started going to the appointments the following week.

Cancer Treatment Centers has been so good to me, I had my first appointment (a nurse call) on that Friday the 13th, to discuss my family history so that the doctors would know more about me by the time I arrived on the 16th for my first appointment.  I had no idea when I left work on November 13th that I would never return.  I loved my job as a middle school counselor.  I had been in education for 23 years and could see the light at the end of the tunnel with only seven years left until retirement.  After having a plethora of tests and seeing my oncologist at CTCA he told me that if I wanted to go on disability he would support me 100%. He told me that I didn’t need to be around sick kids and unfortunately I took care of the sick kids when the school nurse was not there.  I was started on Votrient 600 mg once a day.  I told my boss and co-workers that they started me on a medicine that would lower my immune system and I would be having surgery at some point, so I stayed on Family and Medical Leave.   My oncologist saw me every six weeks for blood work and scans until he knew that my cancer was stable enough to move to 3 month appointments.  Finally on March 1, 2018, I had my radical left nephrectomy, adrenalectomy, splenectomy and they also removed the tail of my pancreas.

To make a long story short, one year after my surgery I am still taking Votrient and it is keeping my cancer mets stable.  I see several specialists at CTCA to keep my side effects under control.  I see my oncologist now every three months for scans and blood work.  After my surgery I told my boss that I would no longer be returning to work, that I had applied for disability and had been approved.  At 46 years of age this all seems surreal at times.  I miss working; I miss what used to me my “normal” life.  I am still working on adjusting to my new “normal”.  I have a good friend who I met through Cancer Fighters who is fighting stage IV renal cell carcinoma.  I have also met some great friends on the KCCure Clear Cell Renal Cell Carcinoma Facebook group.  My church (Callaway Baptist) also started a support group called FCC (Fighting Cancer through Christ).  It helps to know others who are going through the same battle.  I have received so much support, love, and prayers from my church, work, and our community.

I hope you will be encouraged by my favorite verse:  Jeremiah 29:11 “For I know the plans I have for you”, declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future”.

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