“My Voice” by Mike Terry

Mike Terry - 'Survivor'

I grew up with a Mother who was an RN, so I learned about cancer at an early age. Mom always told me that the cancer patients who do the best are: “those who are involved in their treatments, those who have a good attitude, and those who can laugh.” So I guess you could say I grew with the seeds of Survivorship already planted.

On Saturday February 16th 2002, my life changed forever. At dinner that night, I didn’t feel good. When getting ready for bed I noticed my right Testicle had at least double in size. I don’t think I slept at all that night. I thought cancer, but it could be a lot of things, so I spent all night on the Internet doing research. Sunday evening I had blood in my urine. The thing that came to mind was…three strikes…your out!

The next morning I was at a Urologist’s office. He started treating for a Urinary Tract Infection, but did several other tests as well. A CT Scan showed a mass on my right Kidney and a mass on the left side as well, but it didn’t seem to be attached to anything. My Urologist kept saying “I’m worried about you”, but no one would say the “c” word. Three weeks after my symptoms, I was having surgery to remove my right Kidney and to try to find the mass on my left side, which they didn’t find. My Urologist said what they did take out was the size of a football.

I was referred to an Oncologist because Pathology showed I had Kidney Cancer. I had to pull information out of him…It was like he didn’t want me involved. He also said, “You’re 47, you’re young, I feel like I have to offer you something.” Wow, that was encouraging. He lasted two visits.

Three months later I was having my left Adrenal Gland removed (the mass on my left side that they didn’t find during my first surgery). Pathology showed Metastatic Kidney Cancer. I was now officially Stage 4, although I was actually Stage 4 when my symptoms started. Stage 4 in Kidney cancer means there is a 95% chance the cancer will return. At this point, we went In to ‘Wait and Watch’ mode. I was at that point what we in the Kidney cancer community call NED (No Evidence of Disease).

My NED status lasted until February of 2004 when a routine follow-up CT Scan showed a single mass in my right lung. Here we go again. Surgery a month later removed a single mass form between the middle and lower lobes of my right Lung. I was lucky…because it was between the lobes. I actually lost no Lung tissue.   Pathology showed Kidney cancer again. Now I was Stage 4 Recurrent Kidney cancer. Now there was a greater than 95% chance the cancer would return, and it would returns in a shorter time interval that before, which was 21 months.  For the time being, I was NED once again.

You may be wondering why no treatment so far, other than surgery. Well, my second Oncologist wanted me to begin treatment after the Lung surgery. This went against all of the research my wife and I had done. All of the studies we had read showed that there was no advantage to treating Kidney cancer with systemic treatment if there was no measurable disease. In fact, with Kidney cancer, the best treatment, if possible, is surgical. He would not explain why he wanted to treat, just that he did. It seemed we were getting to the point where he didn’t want me involved. Time for another Oncologist.

While Kidney cancer is the 7th most common cancer in men, there are only about 35,000 new cases a year, so there are not a lot of Experts in the disease. I wanted an Expert this time, so I now drive from the Northwest corner of Arkansas to Chicago to see my Oncologist. He explains why he wants to do things. He is willing to discuss things. In other words, he wants me involved. He wants me to understand his decisions and he wants to hear how I feel. Any decision I make will certainly be an informed one. It is quite refreshing.

I think Mom’s advice years ago, has helped me focus on Survivorship. I have been very involved in my treatment.  I have had a good attitude during this whole journey which has been made even better by the fantastic support of my wife, son, and two daughters. Oh yeah, almost forgot, I do love to laugh.

A few months before my third surgery, I got back in to cycling and found out about the Lance Armstrong Foundation. They say: Unity is Strength, Knowledge is Power, and Attitude is Everything! Sounds a bit like what Mom said years ago, and it is true. Surround yourself with good people (medical and friends), learn all you can about your disease so that you can make informed decisions and participate in your treatment, and put on that Survivor mindset.

Do I wish I had cancer, I don’t…but I would be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge all of the positive changes it has brought in to my life. I have had opportunities I probably wouldn’t have had, I have met some amazing and caring medical people, I have some amazing friends from all over the world that I probably never would have met if it weren’t for cancer, and I believe I focus more on the really important things.
Oh yeah…it is now a little over four years since my last surgery and I am still NED.

Let’s kick some cancer behind.

Mike Terry – Stage 4 Kidney cancer – 7 year Survivor