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Patient Stories

Voice of Kidney Cancer – Sherry Doyle

oncocytoma patient

My name is Sherry Doyle and I am 55 years young. One year ago today I was having part of my left kidney removed because I was told by a doctor that I had an 85% chance of having Renal Cell Carcinoma. My journey however, started several months before that.

In December 2017 I began to have trouble seeing clearly with my left eye. I went to the ophthalmologist and was told I had a cataract and needed surgery. I was terrified of having surgery of any kind but especially on my eye.  As part of the work up to get the cataract surgery, I needed to have cardiac clearance. So off I went to the cardiologist in January 2018. I have had high blood pressure for many years and have been on a variety of bp meds for years. Unfortunately, my blood pressure was too high and I couldn’t get cleared for surgery. I was told to come back in a month for a recheck.  February came and at that appointment, I happened to see a different nurse practitioner whom I had never seen before. She did a review of my medications at that appointment and was shocked to find out that I was on five different blood pressure agents and still had very high 175/95 bp.  She wanted me to have an ultrasound of my kidneys to see if my arteries possibly needed stents and were causing the high blood pressure.

My ultrasound appointment was March 8, 2018 at 9:30. I was done by 10:30 and on my way to do some shopping since I had taken the whole day off not knowing how long I would be at the hospital.  Two hours later my phone rang and the nurse practitioner was telling me that she was sorry to inform me that I had a 4 cm by 2cm mass on my left kidney. She was making me an appointment to see a urologist in 3 days, and I needed to have a CT scan done before then. I asked her if I had cancer and she told me that although it couldn’t be determined from the ultrasound, the situation was very serious.

As a teacher, I really do believe that knowledge is power so I immediately started searching for online groups that could give me the information that I so desperately needed about what my future might hold.  I was fortunate enough to find a support group that helped me prepare for what was going to be the biggest challenge of my life. Not only was I given great advice on what to expect regarding tests, but also what types of things I could do to prepare for surgery (ice packs, pillows, and a recliner), and what types of continuing treatment I might need.

At my urologist appointment I was told based on the CT scan that I most likely had RCC and that a biopsy was unnecessary as it would only spread the cancer cells. The cure would be a partial nephrectomy and possibly immunotherapy if the margins weren’t clear or if there was other tissue/organ involvement which would be determined after surgery. I asked what was the possibility that the tumor was benign, and was told less than 15%, and I should prepare for the fact that I had cancer.

On March 22, 2018 I had a left partial nephrectomy.  In the hospital, my urologist told me the margins were clear and he saw nothing else concerning. I asked if it looked like cancer, and he admitted that it did, but was confident that he had gotten it all.

One week later, I was recuperating at home when I received a phone call from the nurse at the urologist’s office. At this point, I was so used to hearing bad news that I almost didn’t answer it. However, I did, and was told that my tumor was benign! Turns out I had an oncocytoma and no further treatment would be needed. I felt like I had won the tumor lottery!

However, the cardiac nurse practitioner was still concerned about my lingering blood pressure issues. So one month after surgery she ordered a CT angiogram which revealed a very small angiomyolipoma, (another type of benign kidney tumor) in my right kidney as well as a hernia that I was unaware of!  I will need to monitor the angiomyolipoma by ultrasound every few years. Currently, I have been referred to a nephrologist who is checking me for adrenal tumors as a possible cause of the blood pressure issues that are still plaguing me.

I wanted to share my story because not every kidney tumor is cancerous. Of course I wish that I had never had to have surgery, but more importantly, I wish there were better diagnostics available everywhere so that the risk of surgery could be avoided in benign tumor cases. I wish that I had spoken up, and asked more questions before accepting the option of surgery. Most of all, I wish for a cure for this awful disease of cancer.

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