Over the last 11 years, Katy Tucker has endured a nephrectomy, Gamma Knife® radiosurgery and six chemotherapy drugs. And though the 71-year-old’s kidney cancer treatment continues, she remains as upbeat as ever.
“I’m blessed. I know I’m blessed,” she says.
A stage IV kidney cancer diagnosis
Katy was getting ready to run a half-marathon at age 60 when she woke up one morning in January 2006 with a sharp pain on her left side.
“I called my doctor and he said, ‘Go to the ER because it sounds like kidney stones,’” she recalls.
But a CT scan revealed a tumor larger than an orange on her left kidney. She had stage IV renal cell carcinoma, the most common type of kidney cancer.
“We were shocked. It was the furthest thing from my mind,” says the yoga and swim instructor who’d always kept up with her physicals and screenings.
“We came home and my dear husband went to the computer and printed everything about renal cell carcinoma. It wasn’t more than three minutes before he says, ‘I’m taking this away. We’re not going to read it,’” she says. “I put more weight on the positives and my husband does, too.”
Stage IV kidney cancer treatment
The following week, Katy and her husband met with Surena Matin, M.D., who determined her tumor was too big for laparoscopic surgery; so a few weeks later, on February 15, 2006, Louis Pisters, M.D., surgically removed Katy’s left kidney. She showed no evidence of disease for nine months, until a CT scan showed that the cancer had returned to the site of her surgery and spread to her lungs.
Since then, it’s been a rollercoaster ride.
Under the care of Nizar Tannir, M.D., Katy has switched from one chemotherapy drug and clinical trial to the next as her cancer disappeared and returned over the next 10 years. She’s taken sorafenib, interlukin-2, sunitinib, everolimus and the immunotherapy drug nivolumab.
When she learned that her cancer had metastasized to her brain in October 2016, Amol Ghia, M.D., successfully treated all five cancerous spots in a single Gamma Knife radiosurgery session. This non-invasive treatment uses tiny radiation beams to accurately target brain tumors with a single high dose of radiation. While she didn’t experience any side effects, she wasn’t able to practice yoga for a couple weeks and was restricted from driving for three days.
She’s currently taking axitinib to treat some cancerous spots that have returned to the area where her left kidney was, as well as her right kidney and right lung. Though they’ve all been tolerable, she’s dealt with mouth sores, neuropathy in her fingers and low white blood cell counts.
Still, Katy is thankful for every day that greets her and the unwavering support she’s received from her care team.
“My husband and I, we’re a team to start with -- we’ll be married 50 years this December. Our kids, they’re part of our team, and MD Anderson is part of our team in this also,” she says. “We’re all fighting this deadly disease together.”
Dealing with two cancer diagnoses in a family
And now, Katy’s care team will be fighting twice as hard against cancer. In May, her husband Mike was diagnosed with prostate cancer. He recently began treatment under the care of John Davis, M.D.
“Devastated? Of course we are,” Katy says. “But we’re at the right place.”
She and Mike are dealing with their diagnoses the only way they know how: by living as normally as possible. He recently returned from a road trip with their grandson, while she still teaches yoga and swimming classes several times a week.
As Katy says, “We keep moving on, and we keep fighting.”
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