It saved mine only a year ago. But the story goes back a bit farther than that.
It was September of 2007 and I was experiencing some discomfort. I’d been helping a friend, a really incredible local theater director, put on a show for a local festival. I was given the title of ‘producer’, but that was merely due to my director friend’s kindness. In reality I was there just to help on the business side. I took and sold tickets, handed out programs, and helped set up the audience’s chairs before the show. The show could easily have gone on without me, but it was nice to help out a friend nonetheless.
It was before one of these shows when I started to feel pain. Pain when I urinated. For those of you who have experienced, you know there’s something very distinct about that particular kind of burning that occurs when you have a urinary tract infection. And while this pain isn’t particularly debilitating it isn’t something you want to endure for long.
So I ignored it.
OK, that’s not strictly true.
I ignored it for about 12 hours. The burning started late Friday afternoon, so I decided to endure it at least until Saturday morning to see if it went away. When it didn’t (obviously) I walked down the street to my nearest Emergency Room and was given some antibiotics that got rid of the burning in less than a day.
Unfortunately this would not be the end of my adventure. I was advised to make an appointment with a urologist. Being male, UTI’s were much more likely to be indicative of a more serious condition. So off to the doctors I went where I had to undergo poking and prodding and was inserted into a tube that scanned my important bits. Which is when they found the mass on my right kidney.
Now, I don’t want to make this sound scarier than it was. Because, in all honesty, I wasn’t scared. My UTI had been taken out by the antibiotics, so it had nothing to do with whatever was on my kidney. And the mass wasn’t even that big. 1.5 centimeters in diameter. Since my kidneys had never been scanned before, for all my doctors knew the mass could have just been a normal part of my kidney that was a little off. Couple that with the fact I had no other symptoms, we decided the wisest course was to wait and watch.
About a year and a half later, after 3 separate MRIs, I was sitting in a surgeon’s office who told me he was 80% certain the mass was a cancer. It had grown to 2.5 centimeters and even if it wasn’t cancerous it isn’t smart to keep a growing mass on one of your internal organs. Or so I’ve been told. The answer? SURGERY!
As luck would have it, in the preceding six months I had undergone a tonsillectomy and had my wisdom teeth surgically removed. Surgery was no longer the scary unknown it could have been. And since I was still symptom free (other than the hitchhiker on my kidney), I wasn’t all that worried.
I’ll spare you the gory bits. Put simply, I checked into the hospital, had a twelve-inch incision made in my side, had part of my 11th rib removed, and that innocent seeming ‘mass’ was expertly scooped out, biopsied and discarded. After 4 days of recovery in a room I had to myself (how lucky am I!?), I was given a prescription of percocet and strict orders to take it easy for at least the next month.
It turns out I had renal cell carcinoma. Thanks to a random UTI and the persistence of doctors, from the ER resident all the way up to my surgeon, I had it removed while it was small and hadn’t had a chance to spread. And I still have 90%, if not more, of a completely healthy right kidney.
Turn back the clock 50 years and I wouldn’t have found out about the tumor until it had grown enough to give me some pretty serious symptoms. Another 50 years and we’d probably only know about it once it killed me. Granted, I did get lucky. But if not for the advances made by scientists over the years to modern medicine, I may not have been here to write this.
Some of you may view this as being overly dramatic. But it’s the simple truth. Science saved my life. And maybe, one day, it will do the same for you.