Five years ago, I was leading a busy life as a fashion designer with my own business. That all changed one night when I suddenly collapsed from pain in my back and had acute bleeding. I was 45 years old.
I was taken to the hospital where a CAT scan revealed a large tumor in my left kidney. I had renal cell carcinoma. The cancer diagnosis was sudden and totally unexpected. I hadn’t been unwell.
I was alone in a hospital bed when I first heard that word. The doctor said, “You’ll need surgery to remove the cancer.”
I was in total shock. I would have to break this news to my family. How do you explain something so devastating that you don’t understand yourself? It was hard for me to accept and for my family to come to terms with it.
Once the bleeding was controlled, I was sent for surgery to remove the kidney with its tumor. The operation was successful, and the tumor was contained. However, I was left with constant back pain.
Over the next two years, I had to get a bone scan, MRI scan, and routine CAT scans. Eventually, I was diagnosed with nerve damage and prescribed painkillers indefinitely.
Cancer interrupted my life so abruptly that I found it hard to carry on as usual. The fashion business seemed very superficial when I returned to work, so I closed my business and sold all of the stock. I needed something completely different.
A new normal took over. I had to take each day as it came. As time passed, I began to feel more relaxed; without deadlines, my life became simpler. I appreciated the little things more.
I started to keep a notebook the day I was diagnosed. Later, I transferred it to a blog — An Unfashionable Cancer. To my surprise, the blog started to get a lot of attention, and I was asked to put my story into book format. I joined a writing group too. Writing was a childhood passion of mine.
Another hobby I enjoyed was athletics. I started to go to a local yoga class as the exercises were similar to the physiotherapy, which was recommended by my doctor. When I was able to, I began running again. I built up the distances, and now I run three times a week. I am about to run my first half marathon race and will run a full marathon in 2018 to mark five years since my nephrectomy.
Kidney cancer put an end to the way of life I had been used to and has left an indelible mark on the way I lead my life now. However, my road to fitness has opened new doors, which have led to more challenges.
I hope that in reading this letter, others living with renal cell carcinoma can see that cancer may take away a lot away from us, but the gap can be filled in so many ways. Never give in.
With all the available treatments out there, we can be granted more time. The recovery process granted me with both more time, and a new outlook on life. With this time and new perspective, I ignited old passions and found new ones, too.
For me, cancer was not the end, but the start of something new. I try to enjoy every minute of the journey.
Debbie Murphy is a fashion designer and the owner of Missfit Creations. She has a passion for yoga, running, and writing.. She lives with her husband, two daughters, and their dog, Finny, in England.