A week ago, I wrote this on Twitter:
I’ve had one of those days that I understand are quite character-building.
I was alluding to that old chestnut, “Adversity builds character.” And what made me think of that was a phone call I’d received earlier that afternoon.
Around noon, I’d gone down to the Kaiser campus in Santa Rosa for a routine CT scan that was meant to see if I had any kidney stones. We switched our medical insurance to Kaiser in December, which meant a whole new set of doctors. I’d had some bladder stones removed in late November, and the protocol is to do a follow up ultrasound three or four months later, just to make sure that things are clear. Instead of the ultrasound, my new urologist wanted a baseline CT, because, he said, “It’s the gold standard for finding stones.”
Kaiser is pretty darned efficient. I walked into the Medical Imaging department at 11:58 AM, and I was done with the CT scan by 12:08 PM. As I left, the tech told me that I should hear from my doctor with the results in a couple of days.
Two hours later, my phone rang, and my urologist told me I have kidney cancer.
Let’s jump right ahead to the good news we’ve learned since then: the tumor is fairly large (7 cm), but it is confined to the right kidney, and hasn’t spread beyond it. It hasn’t affected nearby lymph nodes. And it hasn’t invaded the major kidney vein, which would act as a superhighway to spread the cancer to other parts of the body.
On April 9, I’m scheduled for surgery intended to remove the tumor and save the rest of the kidney. About 30% of the kidney will be taken. I’ll be in the hospital for four or five days, then back home to continue recovery. After ten days, I should feel well enough to start working again. If all goes well, recovery should take about a month, except for no heavy lifting for six weeks.
Kidney cancer (or to put it more specifically, renal cell carcinoma) doesn’t respond to chemo or radiation treatment. As long as it’s in one place and can be cut out, that’s the way to go. There’s no good way to know before surgery just what kind of cancer it is; there are different types of kidney cancer. If it is the most common type, removing the tumor is considered curative. Most of the time, there aren’t many symptoms, and tumors are found incidentally when doing a CT scan for another reason, as happened in my case. For me, my right side aches a little bit, but not all the time.
For a couple of months, we’ve been working on Dreamweaver CS5: Visual QuickStart Guide, a revision to a book that is one of our main sources of income. Happily, our deadline was always set prior to what’s turned out to be my surgery date, and even with the distractions and general freaking out since last Wednesday, we’ve still managed to get some work in and stay on track. It will be a relief to have the book done and behind us before I go into the hospital.
We’re holding up well, I think. It’s a frightening thing to learn you have cancer, that there is this literally malignant thing growing inside you. It’s scary for me and scary for Dori, who has been wonderfully supportive. Our family and friends have likewise been completely forthcoming with love and support. I’m going public with this because I could imagine Dori tweeting something like “Arrived at the hospital for Tom’s surgery” and taking all of our friends and colleagues who follow us on Twitter and Facebook by surprise. We don’t want that. Better to let people know what’s going on now.