CancerGuide: Inspirational Patient Stories
My duel with cancer began in the middle of the night with a feeling of pressure in my lower back. I awoke and started to go into the bathroom imagining that I simply had to void... an unusual state for me at that time. However, as I began, my back began to hurt more and I could not finish. As I began to walk back to bed, pain hit so hard that I was knocked to the floor and could hardly breath, let alone call my wife for help. I lay on the floor for approximately two hours with this pain when it began to subside enough for me to crawl to the bed and climb in. I immediately lost consciousness from the exertion and did not awaken until my wife roused me to prepare for work.
I was feeling better, little pain, but was still exhausted. I explained to her what had happened and then went into the bathroom. At this point I noticed that I was excreting blood in my urine. At this time, I was a trained ECA or Emergency Care Attendant... one step away from a paramedic. I knew the symptoms were that of a kidney stone and believed that it had passed. My wife, however, convinced me to call our family doctor who agreed that I should come in for an examination. I took my wife to work at MD Anderson Cancer Center (appropriate I should think) and returned to my doctor's office. He ordered an ultrasound to check for the stone's passage and to see if there were any others as he agreed with my diagnosis that it was, indeed, a kidney stone. I took the test at another location and started to return to work.
About 1/2 way to my office, my pager went off with my wife's phone number. I assumed she was calling to check on me and returned her call from our cell phone. She informed me that our doctor had called and wanted to have me back in his office immediately and that she was going to go with me. We drove up Houston Highway 290 discussing the possibilities and concluded that the stone remained and that he wanted to have it pulverized. I then asked the question about the 'C' word. I said, "Honey, do you think there is any possibility that it could be cancer?" She replied, "I think you are being a bit oversensitive... it cannot possibly be cancer this quickly."
Why did I think this? Not long before I had had a scare. I had been on the drug Prozac for an extended period of time for a serotonin imbalance causing me to have muscular function degradation in my right side. The Prozac inhibits serotonin reabsorption thus making the neurons function properly. However, I had suddenly developed a toxicity to the drug causing a severe case of vasculitis in both legs. My doctor confirmed the source of the reaction by removing me from the medication until healed, then restarted it at a reduced dosage... with the result of an immediate recurrence of the reaction.
Vasculitis is a condition where the veins, particularly in the skin, begin to hemorrhage. This causes bruising and can cause significant blood loss. This hemorrhage can also affect the kidneys and, evidently in my case, did. It was only a few months following the vasculitis that I was diagnosed with renal cell cancer. I also know of at least five other individuals with a similar medical history of renal cell cancer and Prozac reaction.
Returning to my story, we arrived at our doctor's office and were immediately taken back to see him... a highly unusual situation. In his office, he engaged in some small talk first, as we have also been friends for some time, then asked if we knew of anyone we trusted to remove my kidney. We thought he was joking at first as we did not want to accept what we were hearing. He affirmed that I had a 5cm tumor on my right kidney in the upper quadrant. The pain I had felt had, indeed, been a kidney stone lodged in the vicinity of the tumor and had served as an alarm to the presence of the tumor.
I was somewhat shocked, and my wife was in total denial. We obtained the name of a Urologist that our doctor trusted and left. My wife insisted that I make an appointment with the Uro-oncology clinic at MD Anderson for a second opinion... that she would set up. Prior to this appointment, I went through an MRI and IVP to image the tumor. I took these to the appointment. I was seen by the Chief of Oncology in the Urology Department at MD Anderson, who confirmed the diagnosis and strongly recommended that I undergo a nephrectomy. By this point, I had accepted the diagnosis and was anxious to have this cancer removed. My wife was still not accepting of the disease, but was accepting that I required the surgery and urged me to go ahead with it. The date available at MDACC was many weeks distant, so I opted to use the recommended surgeon at our local facility. A week later I was waiting in the waiting room to be taken in for the surgery.
The day of surgery was a cool but clear March morning in Houston. Trees were beginning to bud and the grass was greening up. Many flowers were already up and in bloom. I was sitting/laying on a gurney in my surgical gown with an IV going in my arm. My wife was by my side looking brave. Surprisingly, I was calm and ready to get it over with. I had not deluded myself about the surgery. My medical training actually had me curious about it and wondering if they would be video-taping it so I could watch it later. My surgery was to consist of a chevron initial incision beginning at my left upper abdomen, continuing towards my sternum, then continuing down my right abdomen to my lower right side. I was taken from my wife and wheeled into the surgical room. I remember being asked to move from the gurney and onto the table.
I remember sitting up to slide over with the nurse's help... and then nothing until I hear someone say, "Ok, on three we slide him into the bed... one...two..."
I could feel the pain in my abdomen and called out to them, "No, wait, I'm not ready yet..." "...three!"...and I felt like I was being torn apart at the middle. My wife was outside of my room and heard me threaten them to within an inch of their lives...which I now do not remember saying. I was again unconscious. When I again awoke, I was in a private room with my wife and a lot of tubes. I was in and out for the rest of that day. The next day, my doctor came in to see how I was feeling and then told me that I was going to hate him for a day or two because he wanted me to get out of bed and try to walk. I knew this was coming and was anxious to begin the healing so I could leave the hospital...so I not only got out of bed, I walked with their help to the door and into the hall and back...it seemed like 10 miles.
That night occurred an event that I will never forget. I had two particular tubes in me that I was not informed would exist. One was a stomach tube to ease my digestive tract back into operation. The other was a urinary catheter. I was being fed fluids via an IV at the rate of 1000ml/three hours. I was producing very little output which my wife questioned the doctor and nurses on. We were told to not worry that this was normal. However, that night I was again awakened with a strong feeling of pressure, this time in my bladder. I rang for the night nurse several times, with no response. I finally could no longer stand the pressure and tried to lower the railing to take care of things myself. The railing would not go down, so I climbed over it and could go no further thanks to the stomach catheter. It later turned out that the urinary catheter had become blocked with blood. I only knew I had to remove it or I would be in serious trouble...so I did. Shortly thereafter, the nurse finally showed up to her shock...
The moral of this story is: do not let any observation pass. Had I been unable to remove the urinary catheter, per my Urologist the next day, I likely would have experienced reflux into my remaining kidney and potential renal failure. He was quite upset at both himself and the nursing staff for failing to react to this danger. So much so that he instituted a procedural change in monitoring and reporting.
As of February 2002, I have been free of the cancer for three years. I have had some complications that I have been informed are a result of the disease. Shortly after my surgery, about six months, I was diagnosed with both rheumatoid arthritis and bone degeneration disease...both autoimmune diseases. I am now on medications to limit both and exercising to retain my freedom of movement.
This is my story...
I would be glad to hear you, especially if you have insight into any connection between Prozac and cancer. You can email me at [email protected]
This CancerGuide Page By Harry Nimon. © Harry Nimon
Last Updated: February 15, 2002