In June of 2005 I was sucker punched with the devastating news that I had a 13 cm mass on my left kidney that was most likely malignant. I say sucker punched because I had no symptoms, and in fact. I felt great. My family and I were headed to the Florida Keys for a vacation of boating, snorkeling and just plain fun in the sun. It all seemed surreal like someone had tapped me on the shoulder right in the middle of a party and said” you have to leave.” How could this be? I felt fine and I am only 45. Surely they had the wrong person.

This all happened after going to my annual gynecological exam, which yes, I had put off for a few months, a hard lump was noticed on the left side of my abdomen. Thank God my gynecologist ordered an ultrasound, because if not and my type of cancer (renal cell carcinoma) was given more time to spread, I don’t think I would be here now. Lessons learned: take care of yourself, go to your check-ups, and get second opinions ask questions. In other words, take charge of your health and be a partner with you doctor.

My journey is that I had a radical nephrectomy, I’ve had three major surgeries but no chemo or radiation because it is not effective with kidney cancer. I know some people may say thank goodness you did not have to endure that type of treatment, but there are times that I wish there was something I could do to help fight this cancer from recurring. Lesson learned: everyone with cancer is related although treatments are not all the same and that we must all join together to fight for early screenings, better treatments, and insurance coverage no matter what type of cancer. Once a screening and cure is found for one cancer, then it will begin to trickle down to other types of cancer. I can’t believe that having cancer was what it took for me to open my eyes to the beauty of friends, family and strangers. Lesson learned: Don’t wait until a tragedy hits to truly know the preciousness of what life is all about. How unfortunate that it took the reality of dying way too early for me to see things in a different light.

I am trying to use my journey with cancer by sharing my experience by becoming a co-chair for patient support with the Judy Nicholson Foundation for kidney cancer in Jacksonville, Florida. I encourage all survivors to share their story because there may be someone out there that is newly diagnosed that is just starting their journey. By sharing your experience, you can mentor a new survivor by offering hope! Let them know that being diagnosed with the “big C” is not always a death sentence and that fearless courage is the foundation to victory.