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Bonnie Briley

Kidney cancer - Stage IV

This testimonial includes a description of this patient’s actual medical results. Those results may not be typical or expected for the particular disease type described in this testimonial. You should not expect to experience these results.

View CTCA treatment results for kidney cancer

Overview

My story

In 2000, when I was 45 years old, I started having a painful side ache, as if I’d been running. One day it became very painful, so I went home to lay down, but the pain worsened. My sister took me to the emergency room at a hospital in Colorado Springs, near my home in Monument, Colorado. I was in the hospital for four days before the doctors finally found a tumor in one of my kidneys. I had a biopsy taken, which showed the lesion to be cancerous, and then had surgery to remove that kidney.

After surgery, my doctor told me that if the cancer recurred, it would be in my brain or lungs. I felt reassured, though, after the surgery. I thought that the cancer was over.

I worked as a hair stylist and owned a salon for many years. In 2004, I was at the salon and wasn’t feeling well. I told the other stylists, who were surprised because they knew it wasn’t like me to complain. About an hour later, I blacked out while I was shampooing a client. I went to the emergency room, where the doctors found a tumor in my brain. They transferred me to a hospital in Denver.

The brain tumor turned out to be a meningioma, a benign type, but it was very large. I had it removed, and for about a year I had trouble with my speech, often using the completing wrong word for something. Walking also became difficult. A year of speech and physical therapy helped me make a full recovery.

But in 2007, I had a gallbladder attack. I was in severe pain. At the hospital, I had my gallbladder removed. I felt very unwell and remained in the hospital for 18 days while my doctors tried to figure out what was wrong. Finally, my sister checked me out of the hospital, obtaining my medical records before we left.

When we read my records, we saw that someone had written that I should consult a gynecologist for an enlarged ovary. I called my gynecologist and she saw me right away. There was a mass in my pelvic area. She did a hysterectomy and found that the kidney cancer had metastasized to my ovaries, my fallopian tube, and pelvic area.

My gynecologist sent me to an oncologist in Colorado Springs. In his exam room, he introduced himself to my daughter and me and said, “You have stage IV kidney cancer and you have months to live.” He said he could prescribe a medication called sunitinib (Sutent) that I could take “in the meantime.”

That was in September. In the parking lot, I cried about not making it to Christmas. But my daughter wouldn’t hear it She insisted that we weren’t done. She was not going to leave it alone, and told me that I shouldn’t either.

Why would they care?

Soon after that appointment my daughter called to tell me she’d spoken with someone at Cancer Treatment Centers of America (CTCA). My daughter was very smart! She had power of attorney, and she used it to get my medical records so she could send it to CTCA. I tried to talk her out of going down this road. I was trying to accept that I had three months to live. We didn’t have the money to travel. I was ready to give up hope.

Bu the next day my daughter called to tell me to pack my bags for a trip to Tulsa. I protested because I didn’t want to spend money on my care when I was going to die so soon. She explained that CTCA would cover the travel expense. I was dumbfounded. “Why would they care?” I asked her. “They don’t know me.”

When we walked through the door of the Southwestern Medical Center, it hit me that I was in the right place. I’d been planning my funeral on the way, and suddenly I had hope again. My mother, who is in her 90s, traveled to Tulsa to be with me, and she said the same thing as soon as she arrived.

A path to survival

When I met with Dr. Jaggernath and his team, he told me that no one had a right to tell me that I had three months to live. He also told me that if I’d started taking the sunitinib as soon as my previous oncologist had prescribed it, I may have done more harm. Instead of starting this treatment immediately, Dr. Jaggernath prescribed a regimen to build up my immune system. It took me nine months to get healthy. At the end of that, I started on sunitnib.

During the past several years, I have had multiple treatments. After a bad fall, I had internal bleeding around my liver, and during surgery to fix that problem, my doctors at CTCA found cancer in my liver. I had cytoreduction, a 13-hour surgery that took about four months to recover from. I felt ready to give up during that time. Mind-body counseling at CTCA helped get me through by helping me find strength and hope.

Later, my doctors found cancer in the lining of my stomach. I had CyberKnife radiation, which did not eradicate the cancer, and then microablation, which worked. More recently, I had intravenous chemotherapy that had very bad side effects. After recovering fully, I will return to that treatment but at a lower dose.

What gives me hope

Often times my sister would recommend different songs for me to listen to in order to help keep my spirits up. During one treatment, when I didn’t have a family caregiver with me, July from the CTCA fitness center came to be with me. She had brought a song, and it was one that my sister had recommended: Another Chance to Breathe. As I listened to the lyrics, I realized that this was exactly what I’d been given: another chance to breathe.

The kindness shown to me at CTCA was invaluable. My care team cared for me as an individual person. I wasn’t just another patient to them; I was Bonnie Briley. Any question I had, there was always an answer. No one hesitated to provide the information I wanted. They were glad to take the time to address my concerns.

My family has been the best at giving me hope. I have gone through many difficult treatments and recoveries, and they have never left my side. My daughter has been there for me, along with her husband. I have four sisters and a brother who have also been there, along with my mother. They have rarely missed a visit to Tulsa to be with me during treatment.

Currently I return to CTCA every three weeks, and soon I hope the stretches between trips will be longer. CTCA has my back, my family has my back, and that gives me the strength to keep going.

But there is one other thing that keeps me strong: the patients I speak with. As part of the Cancer Fighters Care Network, I speak with others coping with a cancer diagnosis who want to hear about my journey. These connections have given me so much strength to continue staying strong. I have so much thanks for what those conversations have given me, even though I’m the one who’s supposed to be helping others!

I have four beautiful grandchildren, ranging in age from five to 11. Today—seven years after someone told me I had three months to live—I am still going to their soccer games, their dance recitals, and all our holiday celebrations. What could be better? I am grateful for moment.

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