Beating Kidney Cancer
- Arlene Gilchrist, 39, hoped to get an antibiotic for a sore throat when she went to see her doctor in February. She soon found herself undergoing multiple tests that revealed she had kidney cancer.
- Doctors removed the kidney two months after, and she is cancer-free. Gilchrist said that she is grateful for the pandemic because it allowed for her partner to be home with their daughter.
- Women who have kidney cancer and other cancers of the genitourinary system often display the same symptom — painless blood in the urine, according to experts.
Arlene Gilchrist, 39, hoped to get an antibiotic but soon found herself undergoing multiple tests that eventually detected cancer.Read More
“I’d had no symptoms at all, no urinary tract infection symptoms. I had normal, everyday tiredness and a sore back I put down to my work as a bartender,” Gilchrist told The Daily Record. “I didn’t think anything of it.”
She knew things were bad even after doctors asked if her partner would like to join her while they discussed her results.
What at first glance appeared to be a hopeless situation proved to be anything but in the end.
The sore throat Gilchrist sought treatment for had nothing to do with her kidney cancer, but by finding it before it metastasized, doctors were able to remove the kidney.
Doctors believed they could successfully rid her body of cancer by removing Gilchrist’s kidney.
The only thing left was for Gilchrist to tell her daughter.
“My daughter, Ellis, was just six. She was told I was in to get my kidney taken out,” recalled the concerned mom. “I said I had a bad kidney, and I would be alright after it. I had to tell her something.”
Even after the surgery, she opted not to explain the whole situation to her daughter and politely asked her friends to do the same.
“I didn’t want to upset Ellis at the time. It was all hush-hush. I asked people not to speak about it in front of her,” explained Gilchrist.
“When I felt, as her mum, that I was in a better position mentally, I explained to her what was going on. Even though she didn’t quite understand, she took it well. She has been a wee godsend. She doesn’t know how amazing she has been.”
And Gilchrist is one of the few people who could not be more grateful for the pandemic, as it allowed for her partner to be home and help both with their daughter and her recovery.
Because her kidney ruptured during the operation, she has to undergo scans for the next five years, but so far, things look great, and Gilchrist is back at work.
Most Common Symptom of Kidney Cancer in Women
Kidney cancer is often difficult to detect, with very few symptoms. Most women, like Gilchrist, assume too much work or too little sleep is to blame for their fatigue and soreness.
There is one common symptom, though; in Gilchrist’s case, she did not experience it or catch it at the time.
Women who have kidney cancer and other cancers of the genitourinary system often display the same symptoms, according to Dr. Jay Shah, Cancer Care Program Leader for Urologic Oncology at the Stanford Cancer Center – painless blood in the urine.
Dr. Shah said that even after noticing this, many women will still wait weeks or even months before telling their doctor.
“Men are not used to seeing blood anywhere down in that area, in the genitourinary system. Whereas women, if they’ve been menstruating, they are used to that idea, and the delay can be longer,” explains Dr. Shah.
“The urinary tract starts up at the kidneys, and then there are tubes that bring urine down from the kidneys into the bladder, and then includes the bladder and the urethra, and we divide the kidney and the ureters into the upper urinary tract and the bladder and urethra into the lower urinary tract,” explains Dr. Shah.
“So the tests that we do for someone with blood in the urine include looking at the upper urinary tract with something like a CT scan or an ultrasound or something called an intravenous ‘pyelogram.'”
To determine what is causing the bleeding, doctors have “several different tests” that “look at the entire urinary tract,” says Dr. Shah.
Those are all different versions of x-rays that can provide doctors with a closer look at what is happening inside the kidney and, hopefully, locate the cause and source of the bleeding. In Gilchrist’s case, doctors discovered the tumor in her kidney following an ultrasound and CT scan because it is part of the upper urinary tract.
If the tumor had been in the lower tract, doctors would have likely performed a cystoscopy procedure where doctors use a camera to look at the bladder, says Dr. Shah.
Telling Your Kids About Cancer
Gilchrist opted to tell her daughter about her surgery but not why she needed the surgery, waiting until she had fully recovered before giving her a complete explanation about her battle with kidney cancer.
Discussing a cancer diagnosis with children can be complicated, and some families are more open to sharing all details at once. In contrast, others prefer to keep it a secret – sometimes forever.
John Duberstein lost his wife Nina to cancer and told Survivor Net that before her death they tried to be upfront with their sons, who were six and eight, when their mother learned she had cancer.
“We tried to give them the information. We didn’t want to hide things from them,” said Duberstein.
“We didn’t talk mortality tables with our kids, and we didn’t talk about the nitty-gritty of the treatment unless they asked about it, and then we did.”
He said that the approach felt progressive and a far better way to handle the situation than just ignoring what was happening to the boys’ mother.
Things got tricky, he said, when Nina was no longer in active treatment.
“The trick with cancer is when you look like a cancer patient, that’s probably a good thing for your overall prognosis. That means you’re still being treated. That means they still think that they can either beat it back or cure it,” noted Duberstein.
“When you’re a cancer patient who doesn’t look like a cancer patient, that can mean that there is no treatment available to you, and they’ve just stopped doing the things that show up like hair loss and emaciation and that kind of stuff.”
So when the couple spoke to the boys one night, they learned that the two had been telling people their mom was sick but now was much better, using her appearance as the basis of that belief.
“Even if we didn’t say it, you actually have to affirmatively counter that narrative with the kids, and you do it gently as much as you can, but at the end of the night, what Nina had to tell them was, “I’m not ever gonna get better. My cancer’s not ever gonna go away,”‘ recalled Duberstein.
“And it was hard for them to hear even though they’d already been prepared, and they’d already known that stuff.”
Telling Kids About Cancer