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Cancer Stage IV Kidney Cancer
(Renal Cell Carcinoma)
Completed Treatment 2006
CTCA Hospital Treated at
Care Team Included
Treatments at CTCA
- Turned 60 in January 2011
- Celebrating more anniversaries with his wife Nancy
- Watching his grandchildren grow
- Working as a purchaser for Home Depot
- Serving as Sunday school president for seven churches
- Attended Celebrate Life® in 2010 as a five-year survivor
"There have been many important things I’ve been blessed to see since completing my cancer treatment. I have been able to celebrate more anniversaries with Nancy... And I’ve been able to see my five grown children have successes in their careers and lives. I’ve been able to see one of my sons go out on a church mission, two of my sons serve in the military, four of my children get married, and my grandchildren be born and grow."
Henry Lucero, Coeur d’Alene, ID
I always believed as a young man that I would live to be the age of a tree—120 years old. I had a grandfather who lived to be 115, and other family members who lived to be more than 100. When I learned at age 55 that I had cancer, I was unwilling to give up. I have too much life left to live. I was determined to do whatever it took to beat cancer.
My renal cell/kidney cancer diagnosis
We were preparing for a family reunion we were going to have at our home in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. I was doing some landscaping in our backyard. As I was carrying a heavy landscaping stone near our fence, the neighbor’s dog barked and startled me. I dropped the stone and pulled a muscle in my side. I went in the house and took some over-the-counter medicine to get rid of the pain. It didn’t go away.
The next day I went to the doctor and I told him I pulled a muscle. He gave me some muscle relaxers. Then I told him about another problem I had been having. I’d had a cough for about two to three months, but I didn’t have a cold. I also had been feeling tired. The doctor listened to my chest and took an X-ray. He told me I had a mass that was visible on the X-ray and it was perfectly round. It was about the size of a golf ball. We looked at the X-ray and sure enough, it was there. So he set me up for a CT scan at the local hospital. It took about a week to 10 days to get in for the test. In that period of time, I felt sicker and sicker each day.
I went in for the CT scan and it took another 10 days to get the test results back. When the doctor met with me and my wife Nancy, he said I had a mass that needed to be tested in my lungs.
The doctor told us his staff would set me up with an appointment with a local oncologist. But, it was going to be 45 days before I could get in to see him. Nancy talked to the doctor’s office and tried to expedite the appointment, but they told her they were overbooked with patient appointments and they could not get me in sooner. Nancy and I agreed: going to a facility that was so overbooked probably wouldn’t be providing the kind of care we wanted and needed.
Finding Cancer Treatment Centers of America
Months before I had been diagnosed with renal cell cancer (kidney cancer), Nancy had seen an ad on TV late in the night that had really stuck in her mind. It was for cancer hospitals that were located around the country. We could not think of the exact name of the hospitals, but our daughter searched the Internet until she found exactly what we were looking for: Cancer Treatment Centers of America (CTCA).
Nancy called CTCA and they asked her to get together all of the medical information on my diagnosis I had received. She FedExed it to CTCA and the next day they got back to us. Nancy worked with CTCA to get everything planned so that we could fly to Illinois for a consultation at the CTCA hospital there, CTCA at Midwestern Regional Medical Center. They helped us to get plane tickets, hotel reservations, transportation, and everything lined up for my visit. It was almost immediate from the time they got my information.
Within the first few days of my visit to CTCA, I had all of my tests done right there. And, I got all of the results from my tests in a day or two. I never got that kind of performance out of the local hospital I went to. When I met with my doctor at CTCA for my results, I found out I had stage IV cancer. I had cancer in four areas, so it was pretty severe. I had a baseball-sized tumor in my kidney; a golf ball-sized tumor in my lung; a fingertip-sized tumor in my liver; and, several of my lymph nodes were cancerous. I also found out the reason I had a cough without a cold was because one of the lymph nodes was swollen from cancer and every time it would touch my esophagus, I would cough.
As a treatment for the cancer in my kidney, my doctors recommended a procedure called a radical nephrectomy. It’s a surgery in which an entire kidney is removed, along with the surrounding lymph nodes and adrenal gland.
Before my kidney surgery, the minister from the Pastoral Care Department came to see me. He talked to me and we said a prayer. I really appreciated his visit. Then, Dr. Sanchez performed the surgery, which took about 2 ½ hours. I then spent a number of days in the hospital recovering from the surgery. While I was staying there, I had a male nurse who took care of me as if he was taking care of his own son. He was so patient and kind to me. It was clear that he loved his job, and he loved his patients. I’ll never forget him.
I went home to recuperate for a month after the surgery. Then I returned to CTCA to begin a very aggressive biotherapy. Dr. Levin put me on an intensive, two-phase treatment of interferons and interleukins. The first part of the treatment I received onsite at CTCA. For five consecutive, full days, I received the medicine. I would then rest the following week before returning to the hospital for another round of the treatment. This went on for four treatments, over a period of about eight weeks.
The nurses that cared for me while I received the biotherapy treatment were as kind and compassionate as the nurse who cared for me when I was recovering from surgery. They worked as a team. I had some horrible side effects from the medicine, especially vomiting. But the nurses dealt with it and all of the other aspects of me being ill with no complaints.
My doctors at CTCA were all great. I could tell that they were concerned about me as an individual. They did everything they could to make me comfortable and to let me know how things stood as we went along. I didn’t have to guess what was going on, or what was going to be the next thing that happened. The information was there so that we understood what we were going to go through. It took a lot of stress and questioning out of the procedures.
For the second part of my biotherapy treatment, I was able to be at home. The treatment was a shot I took three times a week for eight months. Because of the severity of the medication, it seemed like I slept the entire time. By the time it was all through, the treatments got rid of the cancer in my lymph nodes, lungs and liver.
About a year after I had my last treatment at CTCA, I was able to get back to work. I returned to my job as a purchaser for Home Depot, where I’ve been for more than 16 years.
My cancer journey has been a spiritual voyage
I don’t see cancer as a curse or a bad thing because there have been so many spiritual experiences I’ve had as a result. It’s like a path I had to go through as part of my life in order to have these particular experiences. And, they have been very fulfilling and rewarding. A lot of it has to do with the faith I belong to. Nancy and I are longtime members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (the Mormon Church).
Something special happened to me the second weekend after my surgery. We decided to rent a car and drive to Nauvoo, Illinois. Nauvoo is one of the original Mormon settlements. The weekend of our visit there just so happened to be the 200th anniversary of Joseph Smith, the founder of the church. I thought it might be the last time I would be able to bear my testimony, which is an important part of the church. I spoke of my devotion to Christ. Several young people came up to me afterward and they were weeping. It was important for the hundreds of young people to hear about something they are truly devoted to. It was the right message at the right time.
I’ve been deeply touched by the acts of kindness and expression of faith of many people. For instance, a man I work with who is a minister of a church had his congregation pray for me while I was in the hospital. My dad’s first cousin had an Internet group of ladies pray for me too. What I got out of these experiences is we are our brothers’ keeper. You don’t have to know someone to be kind to them. Today I am more compassionate to people, including strangers. I try to be kind every chance that I get.
I believe fighting cancer requires faith, courage and technology. That’s what it takes to help get people through it. It was a pretty big step for Nancy and me to go more than 1,700 miles for treatment at CTCA. But, you never know what you’re going to get out of life unless you try. You have to try. You can’t give up. You have to endure, even when the odds seem against you.
Nancy is really my savior. She did all it took to get me to CTCA and get me through cancer treatment. And, she kept things together while I was sick.
Celebrating life every day
There have been many important things I’ve been blessed to see since completing my cancer treatment. I have been able to celebrate more anniversaries with Nancy. We’ve been married more than 33 years. And I’ve been able to see my five grown children (three boys and two girls) have successes in their careers and lives. I’ve been able to see one of my sons go out on a church mission, two of my sons serve in the military, four of my children get married, and my grandchildren be born and grow.
In June 2010, I celebrated five years of being a cancer survivor at Celebrate Life, a special event CTCA hosts in honor of cancer patients who have treated at their hospitals. And in January 2011, I’ll turn 60.
The church continues to be a major focus in our lives. I have a number of church callings. Right now I am a Stake Sunday School President. I’m in charge of the Sunday school program for seven churches. There are anywhere between 400 to 600 people in each church. Once a year we get the opportunity to go around to the different churches and have a conference. I get to speak at those conferences and convey a message. That’s the highlight of my year!
I have also continued on my quest for my genealogy. It’s my big hobby. I’ve traced my family history back to 900 A.D. and have even discovered I am related to Coronado. I call myself a Spanish-American Indian. I have Spanish in me, heritage from several American Indian tribes, a grandfather from England, and relatives from the island of Crete, who are all Greek.
Each day I live my life by this philosophy: Life is to be savored, no matter how long or short it is. Take advantage of all the joyous things in life and know that the harsh things will pass.