Once upon a time, not so long ago (6 years, 1 month and 10 days to be exact), Randy and I met, were happily married and started a beautiful life together with my 4 children, still at home. We've spent 6 years making memories together, traveling, renovating our beautiful, old home, planting flowers, raising kids, laughing and crying, and just living.
This past July, in the infamous year of 2020, he decided to use our newly acquired health insurance to get a much needed check-up at the doctor. In the process, scans were made, and a dark mass showed up on the fringe. More scans were made and we were sent to a urologist. The diagnosis was stage 4, (terminal) clear-cell, renal carcinoma. Kidney cancer. The most aggressive form of cancer there is. It was hard to even comprehend. There had been no warning. No symptoms. No signs. The surgeon answered all our questions. Told Randy to start drawing on his social security early because he would not live to retirement age. Also said he probably wouldn't be able to work again as a handyman. Our heads were reeling by the time we left.
So a little cancer tutorial now. Kidney cancer is un-treatable. There are no symptoms, generally until it's too late. It is called a surgical cancer. It is only slowed down by surgically removing the tumors whenever they pop up. There are no effective chemo or radiation treatments. Kidney cancer will continue to spread throughout the body, entering different organs, but it is still called kidney cancer, or renal carcinoma. The life expectancy at stage 4 is 2-5 years. 1-2 good years if you're lucky. And here is what a good year looks like- surgery, 6 weeks of recovery, surgery again, 3-4 months later with 6 more weeks of recovery, and so on. So in a year of time, you spend about 5 months in and out of the hospital and recovering from surgeries. Eventually the cancer will either grow too many tumors to operate or enter your bones or your lymph system and then there is nothing the doctors can do except control the pain. Your body can only handle so many surgeries, however.
On with our condensed story. After the shock of finding out he was healthy one day and given a death sentence the next day, we started the cancer journey. It's been a roller-coaster I've never experienced before. Covid has made the journey so much more difficult. Randy had surgery right away. Within 4 weeks, in August, he was alone in the hospital, where I had to drop him off at the door. The surgical team had the best robotic operating room around, in Rochester. After a 4 hour surgery, the surgeon called to tell me he had removed a softball size tumor, Randy's kidney, his adrenal gland and lymph nodes. Later testing showed the kidney was completely taken over with the tumor and the adrenal gland actually had a different tumor growing on it. All of it required a much larger incision and recovery was difficult and slow. A follow-up with blood work was set for December 3rd.
December 3rd, which was only a mere week ago today, we were once again staring at more tumors in the same area. Now there is a life threatening tumor nestled between his main aorta and vein going into his heart. It is already 1.5" across in just 3 months. Another tumor is growing in his lung. It was devastating news. In a very short amount of time, the tumor will be pressing against that aorta. This surgery is much more difficult. The surgeon explained it this way: the body is put together like puzzle pieces. Everything in a proper place. By removing the kidney, adrenal gland and lymph nodes, along with a huge tumor, that space is now filled with other body parts and a lot of scar tissue. Going back in there is now very complicated and they are working around a very delicate area. It will take 2 surgeons this time and most likely have to be done the old fashioned way without the robotics. They are trying to schedule the surgery for early January.
Now that I've got the basics written down, I'll start journaling more of the personal side of our journey. It's not all black and white like these words on a screen. My hope is to have a written record to look back on as this unfolds. And someday, to read the memories that will be a blur in my memory. And for those of you reading along, maybe it will encourage someone on the good days, it will definitely give you a glimpse of what terminal cancer is like for a family of 6 kids and 7, soon to be 8, grandkids all about to lose their dad, step-dad, pop-pop and husband.