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Patient Stories

Voice of Kidney Cancer – Chris Upp

kidney cancer awareness

“It’s a marathon, not a sprint…”

Back in August of 2014, when my journey began, I was getting ready to turn 41 years old. I had just had my first annual physical since being a teenager and passed with no issues.

A few days after that appointment, I started having dull stomach pains and thought it might be food related. As the pain persisted throughout the day, I began to suspect it might be an appendicitis. After being redirected from Urgent Care to the ER, I waited for a doctor to assess me and order a CT.  

An hour or so later, the doctor confirmed my suspicions that I was having an appendicitis and that a surgeon had been called in. The next words that he uttered will forever be etched in my brain.  

“There’s not an easy way to tell you this, but we found a tumor on your left kidney and 80% of the time, it’s cancerous.” My breath left me. Shock set in. I couldn’t comprehend what I had just been told. My GP had just told me three days earlier that everything was fine.

I met with my urologist that same week. He told me that the tumor was about the size of a golf ball and was situated such that there was no chance to do a partial nephrectomy.  I did the prudent thing and got a second opinion, but the recommendation was the same.  I said goodbye to my left kidney the next month. The pathology came back as Clear Cell Renal Cell Carcinoma Stage 1b. With clear margins from the surgery, my doctor declared that I “was now a cancer survivor.”  He directed me to an oncologist as a follow-up, which sounded reasonable at the time.  Little did I know that the starting gun for my race had already been fired.

The local oncologist I had been referred to ordered the full gamut of tests for my first visit, which didn’t surprise me. What did surprise me was that they found several small nodules in my lungs that they wanted to keep an eye on.  I wasn’t too worried because I knew I had a few nodules from a scan that had been done several years prior that turned out to be calcifications from pneumonia or some other respiratory issue. I was so sure of this, I had the doctor go back and find those images to prove that there was nothing else going on. I felt like it simply couldn’t be a recurrence of the cancer, because I was told I was cancer free!

After several more scans over the next year, these small nodules continued to grow. Granted it was only millimeters at a time, but they were definitely growing. In the early summer of 2016, one of the nodules had gotten big enough to have a biopsy done. The results of that biopsy hit me about as hard as the news I got from the ER doctor back when this whole race started. The reality of the situation was that the nodules were probably there all the way back to when my kidney was taken out, but I had never had a CT of the chest to check until my first oncologist visit. I was now a metastatic kidney cancer patient.

I’m an engineer by trade, so when I’m faced with a problem, I look for solutions in a very black and white manner. Whatever was out there that I could take to get rid of this disease was what I wanted, regardless of side effects. After a consultation at MD Anderson, it was decided to start with pazopanib, a targeted therapy. This drug was rough, like every side effect listed I had rough.

After a slight reduction of nodules at three months, then stabilization, and a reduced dosage of the medication, I just couldn’t maintain a good quality of life. It was at this point that my local oncologist, Dr. Jessica Snider, told me, “This is a race that you’re on, but it’s a marathon, not a sprint. We need to find what works for you and allows you continue to live your life as normal as possible.”

I moved on to axitinib, another targeted therapy with lesser side effects, for over two years before progression started again. Most recently I went back and became a patient of Dr. Pavlos Msaouel at MDAnderson in Houston. I’m currently on an immunotherapy treatment with early success of stability in my lung nodules. Finding Dr. Msaouel was in part thanks to the staff at KCCure, their knowledge of the disease and their commitment to patients.

This disease doesn’t provide easy answers for anyone. I have a strong faith, a positive expectancy outlook, a loving group of friends and family, and a hope for a cure. 

I’m proud to be able to support KCCure and their mission to help those impacted by kidney cancer through awareness and research towards a cure.

With no side effects on my current treatment, weight back to my pre-surgery days, and continued progress on treatment options through research, I’m five and a half years into my marathon and I haven’t even reached that first mile marker yet.

Go Chris! We are cheering you on!

Chris is a kidney cancer survivor living in Missouri. He has raised thousands of dollars for kidney cancer research through his annual No Shave November Fundraiser.

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