My Story: An Optimist’s View on a Series of Unfortunate Eventsby Alan the CPA on November 16, 2010
In January 2000, I was stricken with symptoms of what appeared to be the flu, so I took three aspirins. The symptoms worsened so I called 911 and, at the hospital, was diagnosed with a mild heart attack, probably kept that way due to my quick ingestion of aspirin. I was back playing tennis in six months. Then on Labor Day, I awoke in the middle of the night feeling one of those natural human urges. While silently protesting the necessity of leaving behind a comfy bed, I reached the bathroom. There I was perplexed to find that urinating was extremely painful not to mention the bright red color of a resulting liquid. The following morning evoked identical problems so, I headed to the emergency room of my local hospital. I was “held for further observation” and soon started to experience an entirely new and worse dimension of pain on the left side of my abdomen. At that point, I was examined by an urologist who hypothesized the presence of kidney stones. He eventually discharged me requesting a follow-up visit; but as my pain returned two days later, I was re-admitted for a more thorough testing.
A CAT scan followed by a sonogram revealed an almost 3 inch solid mass in the upper pole of my right kidney. The urologist now believed that it was cancer and seemed to be confined to the kidney. He recommended surgery to remove the tumor. Later, a post-operative chest X-ray revealed a stage IV metastasis to my lungs. In complete shock over the rapid downturn of the events, I was given a few suggestions which included one well-known cancer center in New York City and the second the Comprehensive Cancer Center at Our Lady of Mercy Medical Center in the Bronx. At an appointment at the first place, I was informed that metastasized kidney cancer is almost always terminal, that my life expectancy was estimated at eighteen months and that the only course of treatment is to monitor my progress.
Dissatisfied with that answer, I did the only remaining logical thing. I signed onto the Internet and began searching for anything that might be of help. Soon enough, I discovered that there is indeed a treatment for Stage IV metastatic kidney cancer called Interleukin-2 (IL-2). However, it only promises a 5% cure rate while requiring very close supervision as its administration can be life threatening. I also found that Dr. Janice Dutcher of Our Lady of Mercy was an avid proponent of this drug, so I went to see her. But upon reviewing my case, she became concerned at my prior cardiac history and said that before any treatments, it was necessary to determine the speed with which my cancer was progressing and the resulting effect it would have on my heart. Eureka! I suddenly recalled the existence of past chest X-rays taken during my heart attack in January. When compared with current films, they showed no signs of cancer thus indicating the progression of my tumor to be aggressive yet lacking any heart complications. We could now proceed with therapy right away. Ironically, my heart attack expedited my cancer treatment.
All in all, I received four Il-4 treatments. Those days were marred by a sea of side affects including arid eyes, impaired hearing, fever, sores, infections, weakness, dizziness and an interminable itch all over my body. In addition, a combination of extreme weight loss, extended periods of immobility and a sudden drop in blood pressure resulted in damage to my sciatic nerve that manifested into severe neuropathy in my foot. I was married to an intravenous line not to mention a plethora of other devices like a blood pressure cuff, oxygen meter and an EKG attached to me at all times. After completion of the IL-2 treatment, I was taking CAT scans every three months to assess the effect of the treatment. Thankfully, every new scan showed improvement and within half a year of my last treatment my lungs were clear. I can’t describe what it feels like to be in that 5% – a survivor.
Three years later, my CAT scans show that I am still cancer free. Being a part-time Certified Public Accountant keeps me busy. I also love fantasy baseball and traveling around the globe. However, one of the dearest activities to my heart is my involvement in Action to Cure Kidney Cancer. By living out anyone’s worst nightmare, I know exactly what it’s like to be diagnosed with stage IV metastatic kidney cancer. Since kidney cancer is one of the most under-funded oncolological diseases in the U.S, I feel that it’s my responsibility to let others (especially, politicians) know precisely what that entails. Deep down, I believe that my recovery meant that there was something unfinished in my life, a higher purpose I had to achieve. Now I understand that raising awareness for kidney cancer hits the bull’s eye.