Emma Campbell went to her GP with an ache in her rib cage and a CT scan discovers a 4cm tumour on her right kidney. This her kidney cancer journey.
It was the Summer of 2012 and my life was happy. My son had just finished his first year in school in reception class. We had finally managed to sell our house after it being on the market for a year and all was well in my world. We had a family holiday booked to Spain to look forward to around the corner.
I had been to the GPs on a couple of occasions with an ache in my left rib cage. The doctor sent me for an ultrasound scan which did not detect any cause for my pain. The discomfort continued so I was referred for a CT scan to get a more detailed look. A few days later on a Friday afternoon I received a phone call that changed my life forever. My GP told me that a 4cm tumour had shown up on my right kidney. This had nothing to do with the pain in my left rib cage. It was an incidental finding. That ache saved my life. I was diagnosed with renal cell carcinoma completely out of the blue, not a symptom in sight.
That weekend was the longest of my life. Now, knowing I had cancer, but not knowing the severity of the situation, I was told I would be referred to the urology team under a two-week wait scheme. It was exactly 2 weeks until I first met a urology surgeon. The emotions running through my head were endless. I’m only 42, my son is 5, I can’t leave him without his mummy. I couldn’t eat, sleep, or concentrate on anything and every time I woke up I half expected it to have all gone away: It never did.
I imagined the cancer inside of me, festering, spreading and I just wanted it out, and now! When I met with the surgeon, he told me that he was old fashioned and tended to remove whole kidneys. However, he had a younger colleague who had seen my scans and felt that he could use a robotic technique. This would preserve at least half of my kidney and he offered me the choice and being put in charge of such a decision was a challenge. Sometimes, you just want someone to tell you what to do! I decided to go with the robotic technique, from what I had read the same results were achievable without such major surgery.
The countdown to the operation was difficult and had been told I was on the urgent list which meant up to a six-week wait and six-weeks it was; exactly! In the meantime, life had to go on. I had to tell my friends and family about my diagnosis and deal with all their reactions. I had to go to work as I didn’t want to use up all my sick pay, I would need it later.
I loved my job as a community nurse specialist for the local hospice, however I had too much knowledge that may have given me a sound understanding but also terrified me. I was 10 steps ahead all of the time and endless worrying; was I allowing this cancer to grow and move whilst waiting?
The big day arrived. A friend came to sit with my son and take him to school, I had to keep things together for his sake, while my husband drove me to Southmead Hospital in Bristol. I felt more nervous than I had ever felt in my entire life as I said goodbye to my husband, petrified I’d never see him again.
The first time that I saw my surgeon, Mr Mark Wright, was when I was lying on the operating table about to be ‘put under’. Here was the man, a complete stranger whose expertise and skill I would need to get this cancer out of me. He reassured me things would be ok and the next time I saw him was early the next morning at the end of my bed; he was in his cycling gear! Surgery over, the operation was a little trickier than anticipated, it took three and a half hours, but he said he was pleased with how it had all gone.
I had been told it was likely that I would need a three-night stay, unfortunately due to an infection I ended up staying in for 12 days. I felt very sore as I gingerly mobilised myself around the ward but the sense of relief at the cancer being removed was immense. Adding to that, the scars were neat and healed nicely. The next few weeks I spent recovering physically. Mentally it had been a real roller-coaster, but I had some amazing friends to support me. If anyone offers help, take it. People are genuine and like to feel useful, but they don’t always know what to do, so delegate!
The best and simplest words of advice I had come in a card from my dear friend Roger; “take one day at a time”. That is so true. Avoid those people who tell you about so-and-so who had cancer, and what happened to them. When I was feeling overwhelmed this is the only coping mechanism that worked for me, I accessed support via local voluntary services in the form of counselling, relaxation and nutritional advice. I continued to talk to my close friends about how I was feeling, my fears and these were the ones who listened, loved me and were there for me; which is what I needed so much.
I am so grateful for the normality of my everyday life and all the people in it. My son has just started secondary school, something I prayed I would still be here for and each Nativity, Easter and Harvest Festival I attended marks another milestone of still being here.
I recently had a scan which shows no recurrent disease!!! At six-years cancer free, I have now been officially discharged from follow-up care and through that time, the NHS looked after me so well. This is an achievement and something to quietly celebrate to myself. The worry is always there but I hope for a continued cancer free life, and to see my beautiful boy through the next chapter of his life with me firmly by his side.
I wish you all well in your journey.