In August 2013, I completed my first Ironman triathlon -- a 2.4-mile swim followed by a 112-mile bike ride and a 26-mile run.
Only 16 months earlier, I’d been diagnosed with stage III kidney cancer at MD Anderson. I’d traveled 1,141 miles from my home in the Cayman Islands to MD Anderson, where I underwent a partial nephrectomy.
My cancer was found by chance. After visiting my local doctor for two hernias, an ultrasound revealed a mass on my right kidney. At the time, I knew absolutely nothing about kidney cancer or whether it could be treated. I worried about my wife and two young daughters, but I tried to focus on the positives: we found the cancer at an early stage and before I had any symptoms.
Traveling to MD Anderson for a partial nephrectomy
A couple of weeks after my diagnosis, I flew to MD Anderson for a CT scan and other tests. My oncologist, Jose A. Karam, M.D., confirmed I had a malignant tumor on my right kidney. I was scheduled for a partial nephrectomy two days before my 39th birthday.
The surgery was successful, but the first few days after my partial nephrectomy were extremely hard. It was painful to get out of bed, and walking more than a few steps felt like climbing Mount Everest. But I made sure to move every day to speed up my recovery.
For the first year after my partial nephrectomy, I made the trip to MD Anderson every three months for follow-up scans. Today, I go back for annual checkups. I’ve had no evidence of disease for more than three years.
The importance of support
People often ask what it’s like to be told you have cancer. There is obviously a huge initial shock, but I quickly shifted my focus to getting a precise diagnosis and planning how best to deal with the problem.
The support of my employer, my family, and particularly my wife -- who went through every stage of the process with me -- made a huge difference. Cancer is not something that you want to go through on your own.
Personally, I have also found it helpful to talk to other cancer survivors. As I tell others, there are plenty of great support groups and online forums.
For those who are newly diagnosed, I can’t overstate the importance of a positive attitude. Seek out the best medical team, and don’t be afraid to ask questions. Do your research, and take an active role in your treatment.
My post-cancer bucket list: Completing the Ironman triathlon
One of the things that motivated me most was doing some of the things on my bucket list. When I was lying in bed after my partial nephrectomy, I never imagined that I complete multiple Ironman races just three years later.
Yes, multiple Ironman triathlons. After that first one in July 2013, I completed my second Ironman triathlon in Houston, just a few miles from MD Anderson, in under 12.5 hours.
And I’m not planning to stop there. When I return to Houston for my follow-up visit next spring, I’ll compete in my third Ironman triathlon. I’m hoping this will be my best one yet.