I’ve been blessed with good health for most of my life, and I was careful to keep it that way. I don’t smoke, I eat a healthy diet, and I maintain a healthy weight. I also was fortunate to be born with pretty good genes and have no family history of cancer. In fact, except for an occasional flare-up of gout, I’ve never had any serious illnesses. So it was a complete shock in the fall of 2009 when my wife Ann Marie and I came home from having dinner out and I found blood in my urine.
At first I thought it was probably a bladder infection and made an appointment the next morning to see my primary care physician. Although she didn’t say anything at the time, I was sure she suspected that I had something more serious than a bladder infection. She ordered an ultrasound test for the next day, which was followed by a CT scan and other diagnostic tests. Finally, I was told that there was a 12-cm tumor sitting on my right kidney and that there was a high probability that it was cancer.
Coping With Cancer Metastases
Until blood appeared in my urine, I hadn’t had any symptoms that anything was wrong. But soon after the diagnosis, I started experiencing chronic shortness of breath, an irritating cough, and small blood clots in my urine. It felt as though the tumor was sucking the life out of me.
I was told I needed a radical nephrectomy and that one of my ribs would need to be removed. The biopsy showed that the tumor was stage II kidney cancer. My doctor said that he removed all signs of the cancer and that I wouldn’t need further treatment.
But a month later, when I went back for a follow-up CT scan, the test showed hundreds of nodules on both lungs—the cancer had metastasized. Now I was scared.
The diagnosis was changed to stage IV disease, and I was offered treatment with high-dose interleukin-2 (Proleukin). Although my prognosis wasn’t good, and I had just a 7% to 15% chance for a durable full recovery, I underwent the treatment, and within a few months the tumors starting shrinking. Today, I am cancer-free.
While I am so thankful to my oncology team for taking such good care of my medical needs, I wish that they had paid more attention to my emotional needs. I was looking for some encouraging words while I was going through treatment—and even now that I’m in remission—but they never came.
I try to put myself in my doctors’ shoes and realize how difficult it must be to treat cancer patients, especially when their disease is as advanced as mine was, and you can’t be sure of the outcome. I know that if I hadn’t gotten such great medical treatment, I wouldn’t still be here, but I felt that the lack of an emotional connection was the missing piece in my care.
Living the Best Possible Life
I have always been a positive person, but the experience of having cancer has made me even more determined to live a purposeful life. I don’t concern myself with life’s small inconveniences, and I don’t have patience for chronic complainers.
I am so grateful for having survived cancer, I decided to help others going through a similar circumstance and joined Imerman Angels, a one-on-one cancer support group that matches a newly diagnosed patient with a survivor of the same type of cancer. So far, I have talked with a dozen kidney cancer patients around the country, and the experience has been very gratifying.
Now that I’ve been a survivor for 4 years, I don’t live in constant fear that the cancer will recur, but I know that it is a possibility. If I am faced with a recurrence, I will once again put my trust in my oncology team and be open to any treatments they recommend. In the meantime, I’m living the best life I can, and I don’t take anything for granted. ■
Ed Giampietro is an operations manager for a global technology company in Foxboro, Massachusetts.