My name is Catherine Yutmeyer. I am 39 years old and live in Central Illinois with my husband and 7 year old son. I have practiced family medicine as a PA for 14 years. I never expected to be a patient myself, and especially not to be the youngest cancer patient in my practice.
My cancer journey started in March of 2020. I felt great and had no symptoms. I was standing in front of the mirror one night with my hand on my side when I felt it. I still get goosebumps thinking about it because I knew in that moment that I was in trouble. I had a 9.5 cm tumor on my left kidney. I underwent a radical nephrectomy the following week.
My colleagues were all thrilled to tell me after my surgery that I had Chromophobe RCC, feeling it was the best possible diagnosis. They all felt I was cured and tried to reassure me that it was the “better behaved” cancer and that I won the “cancer jackpot.” I was absolutely terrified and unsettled knowing how rare Chromophobe RCC is and the lack of treatment guidelines for metastatic disease. I eventually sought the opinion of a RCC specialist, Dr. James Hsieh, who discovered I had multiple lung nodules. I went from stage II to stage IV within 2 months of my diagnosis.
The hardest thing that I’ve had to hear is that I may only have 5 years to live. Although Chromophobe RCC is less likely to metastasize then other subtypes of renal cell carcinoma, the lack of knowledge of this rare subtype and lack of treatment guidelines make it a difficult disease to treat.
I wake up each morning with the knowledge that I may never get to see my son grow up. I may never get the opportunity to see the adult that I dream he will become. I may never get to grow old with my husband. I have had to dig deep this year and really find that inner strength to keep moving forward and not be frozen by fear.
I’ve spent the last year working on my emotional and physical strength. I am ironically in the best health of my life… minus the stage IV cancer. I mediate daily, practice yoga along with daily exercise and try to stick to an organic, plant based diet. I’ve done everything I can think of to desperately prepare for my upcoming journey. Dr. Hsieh monitored my lung nodules over the past year with scans every 2 months. I literally had to watch my cancer grow to the point that I would qualify for a clinical trial. Due to the lack of treatment options, a trial was what my oncologist felt was my best option. One year from my diagnosis, I will start treatment and a new, scary chapter in my life.
If I’ve learned anything from my cancer experience, it’s that sometimes the darkest moments in life can bring us to the brightest places. Cancer has given me a new appreciation for every single day of my life. It has made me a more compassionate medical provider, a better friend, wife and mother. It has made me realize how much I have to lose and just how much I want to live. I have spent the last year learning to live in my new normal of having stage IV metastatic ChRCC and learning to play the hell out of the hand I was dealt.
Catherine is a member of the KCCure chromophobe kidney cancer patient community and is leading efforts to raise money for the first ever chromophobe RCC research grant.