Eric K.

Kidney Cancer - Stage 4


My care team was clear in explaining everything to me and answering my questions. I never felt they made promises to me, yet I had found hope. City of Hope gave me treatment options, and that’s what I wanted because I wasn’t ready to give up.

I am a police chief in a small suburb of San Antonio, Texas. My wife, Dina, and I have three children, ages 23, 21 and 8. In addition to working as a police officer, I also write a column for our local newspaper and ad hoc articles for national law enforcement publications.

As a police officer, I have a type A personality. I want to be in control. We don't always have control over situations when they arise while in the line of duty. However, we are trained, and we have options we can employ to keep ourselves safe. There is always risk involved in being a police officer, but I feel like I am trained to manage it.

In 2014, I was 43 years old. I felt like I was in my prime, physically and in my career. I was finding success at my job, and my home life was everything I could imagine. I loved spending time with my wife and three kids. Life was good.

Then one day, I felt like a silent killer tried to sneak up and attack me. I didn’t know it was coming. And boom, one day it was there: cancer. I felt like there was nothing I could do, which was scary.

I had squamous cell carcinoma on my left kidney, which is very rare. It was stage IV. At the time, doctors only knew of 12 people in the world who had ever had it. There was no protocol for how to treat it.

I wanted to be in control, to know what my options were. My diagnosis was pretty grim, and my options were minimal. I had no control over the fact that this had happened to me, and now I felt I had no control over whether I was going to live or die. I was scared, sad and mad.

Searching for options

I went to a cancer center and completed chemotherapy there. After several weeks, scans showed that the cancer did not respond to the chemotherapy. The doctors offered services to keep me comfortable, but I was told I had no other treatment options.

I was devastated. My youngest was only 3 years old at the time. It hit me one day that my son might not even remember me because he was so young. I didn't know how to deal with those strong feelings. I felt hopeless and helpless. The only thing I could control were my own actions. So, I started organizing and preparing my family for life without me. I got my finances in order. I made sure my wife had important information available for what I thought was the inevitable. I started planning for the end.

My wife wasn’t ready to give up just yet. Dina was distraught, but she was not going to take that as a final answer. So, she focused on getting other opinions. She made phone calls, talked to people and went online. One night while searching on the internet, she came across Cancer Treatment Centers of America® (CTCA).* It was late, but the website said you could call 24 hours a day, so she did.

After a conversation that lasted over an hour, my wife was blown away by the amount of attention she got from just one phone call. She knew we at least needed to go to CTCA® to get a second opinion.

When we walked into the hospital near Phoenix, it felt so different from any other hospital we had ever visited. It was welcoming, and everyone was so warm and friendly. They make you feel like you're a part of the family. I knew after my first day at CTCA that this was going to be my new home in the fight against cancer.

Meeting with my care team was a great experience. I completed tests and scans that helped the doctors better understand my cancer. According to the results, it looked like the cancer had spread to some nearby lymph nodes. I asked the doctor if removing the cancerous kidney and lymph nodes could extend my life. He said he believed it would buy me some extra years. That was all I needed to know. I was willing to fight and do whatever I could to have more time with my family.

My doctor continued to explain that removing a kidney is not easy on your body. But if I wanted to go through that, CTCA was ready to help. My care team was clear in explaining everything to me and answering my questions. I never felt they made promises to me, yet I had found hope. CTCA gave me treatment options, and that’s what I wanted because I wasn’t ready to give up.

I completed the surgery, and my doctors removed my kidney and some lymph nodes. When the results came back from pathology, my doctors were shocked: There was no cancer found in the lymph nodes. By removing my kidney, they took out the cancerous tumor. This was a pivotal moment in my feeling that what I was going through was worth it. As a final step in my treatment process, I completed radiation therapy at CTCA.

I look back now and realize how far I have come. I had lost almost 60 pounds in six weeks while undergoing chemotherapy. When I first went to CTCA, I had to be pushed in a wheelchair. Then I went through surgery and radiation, which was hard. My friends and family were concerned and worried that I was not going to survive my cancer. It was a long road to recovery, but I am still here today because of CTCA.

I still return to CTCA for follow-up visits. It’s been almost six years, and my scans continue to show no sign of disease. I look forward to seeing the doctors, clinicians and other employees who are like family to me now.

Appreciating life so much more

People who look at me today can’t believe that I was once so sick. I'm pretty much back to a normal life. I returned to working as a police officer. I work out at the gym, and I am focused on a healthy lifestyle. My youngest son is now 8, and I make it part of my routine to take him to school every day, go camping, play baseball and do many other activities with him. I focus on taking time to connect with him daily, making a point to take time to make memories instead of just rushing through my day.

If there was a benefit to going through that dark time, the upside is planning and doing things we have always wanted. I felt like I was given a new lease, and it’s okay that I don't know how long I have left. I have accepted the fact that no one knows how much time they have on this earth. We are very grateful for the time we have been given, and we take advantage of it.

I don’t procrastinate on trying to check off items on my bucket list anymore. We’ve been to the Grand Canyon and Disney World, and at the beginning of 2019, we went to Hawaii, which had always been a dream of ours. We spent a lot of family time together in Hawaii and reflected on the fact that so many of these experiences would have never happened without our CTCA team. I don't know if I would've appreciated life as much had I not gone through what I did. I know that I have a different outlook on everything after having been through cancer.

We have adopted the approach that experiences are better than having “things.” So, if we want to do something, we do it. We used to say, “When we retire, we’re doing this.” Or, “When the kids are older, were going there.” Now, we figure out a way to do those things sooner.

I am so appreciative of my family, friends and co-workers who supported me through my cancer journey. I am blessed to have my amazing care team at CTCA. I am thankful that my wife was absolutely not going to accept giving up as an answer. Dina pushed me and told me we're not going to lose hope. Looking back, I can see that I needed to hang onto that kernel of hope. I needed to know there were options.

I am glad I am here, and I am very thankful because every day is a gift. Going through cancer, treatment and everything that goes along with it changes your life. I tell others to count the beautiful blessings in their lives and make the most of each and every day!

* Cancer Treatment Centers of America® (CTCA) is now City of Hope®, working together to expand patient access to personalized, comprehensive cancer care. Because this patient testimonial was written and published before CTCA® and City of Hope joined forces, mentions of legacy CTCA locations have not been updated in the interest of maintaining the patient’s original voice and story details.

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