Lauren Hassell

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Hello, my name is Lauren and I’m a 30-year-old woman. I look pretty average for a women my age I suppose, but there is something different about me now. I’m a cancer survivor. I was diagnosed with Renal Cell Carcinoma/Kidney Cancer in November, 2013. Let me bring you back a bit, before cancer, to who I was last year. 

 I have been a Para-educator for individuals for special needs for the last 8 years. I love my job, I love the kids, it can be challenging, but the rewards far outweigh the challenges.  Unfortunately, one of those challenges is money. I didn’t go to college right out of high school, I tried to go back later, but as the rent on my apartment kept rising, I had to quit and take on a second job. I was also in a brand spanking new relationship with this great guy whom I’d been seeing for a few months. I was fatigued, but happy. 🙂 

 This brings us to last November. I awoke in the middle of the night with what seemed to me to be horrible indigestion. I tried the usual remedies but the pain got worse and worse to the point of me lying in a fetal position on the floor and calling for Jeff (my guy) to drive me to the emergency room. They told me it was probably my gallbladder and gave me some pain meds and scheduled me for an ultrasound. Jeff stayed with me the whole time, held my hand and was very sweet, but I could tell he was frightened. 

 The ER doc came back in the room and told me they were correct with their initial estimate.  I had a large gallstone about the size of a green olive and it had gotten lodged in the neck of my gallbladder, causing the extreme pain. I would need to have my gallbladder removed, but there was something else. The tension in the room had changed slightly, for which I hadn’t paid too much attention to at the time.  ”Miss Hassell, you need an MRI right away, we found a suspicious solid mass on your left kidney.”

 I had no idea what that meant, but there was an urgency in his voice, so I took his word for it and scheduled an MRI as soon as my GP’s office opened the next morning. He scheduled the MRI and immediately referred me to an Urologist. He couldn’t tell me anything about what it was, but he told me it needed to be assessed immediately.

 Now I was getting really nervous. I have had issues with anxiety in the past, and this was certainly not helping.  Now in the midst of all this medical stuff, Jeff and I were in the middle of planning a big camping trip. I was not going to let any of this medical stuff ruin meeting Jeff’s family and enjoying our first Thanksgiving together. My doctors gave me the ok, so Jeff and I spent a wonderful week out at Inks Lake. As soon as we got back however, it began. 

 December through February are a bit of a blur for me. I had my gallbladder removed laparoscopically on December 5, 2013 and was given a few weeks to recuperate until I was then sent back to the urologists office. That’s where they confirmed the fear that had been plaguing the back of my mind for weeks. “There is 95% chance that it’s malignant. We need to take it out immediately.” Of course I fell apart right there in the office, but after a few days they called and asked me to come back for another visit with a different doctor.

You see while I was falling apart, they were pouring over my scans and working out the best mode of attack. We ultimately decided that even though the placement of my tumor would make it difficult to remove partially, my surgeon took a chance and preformed what was in my case a complicated partial nephrectomy.

 Now, it was a ROUGH recovery and I was down and out for almost three months. Even seven months later, I am still not physically or mentally who I was before. I have had complications such as an urinary leak which required a urinary stent to correct, blood loss, transfusions and iron iv’s and have had several very large blood clots scraped out of my bladder. And the catheter……. God how I hate the catheter!

 I have had some short term memory issues from being put under anesthesia three to four times in a two month span, but after tons of morphine later, all seems to be getting better as time goes on.

 All in all I survived. And not only did I survive, I still have 2 FULL FUNCTIONING KIDNEYS and that is a blessing. 

 Kidney cancer is rare in young adults. I didn’t fully realize just how rare it was until I attended the OMG2014 Conference in Vegas. I was so pumped to meet other survivors just like me! And while I did meet a lot of wonderful survivors, heard many amazing and inspiring stories and learned how to cope among other things, I didn’t see anything for kidney cancer. Not one booth. And when it came time for the “cancer specific luncheon” There was no table for kidney cancer. I ended up meeting some wonderful Osteosarcoma survivors that day, but it was hard. And frankly, I was frustrated.

 I had been searching for months while I was bed-ridden for other young kidney cancer survivors because I was so isolated and so alone with this. I decided that I was going to start a page on Facebook for Young Adult Kidney Cancer Survivors, and I asked my good friend, who I had found through Stupid Cancer’s website by accident, to help me.

 And now we have a place. I also was asked to be on the Stupid Cancer Show for an episode they did on “Stupid Kidney Cancer”. I asked my surgeon to be present with me and we discussed my case. While everyone’s case is different, I was so thrilled that we now had something out there.  My cancer experience was so different than others.

 I didn’t have chemo, my hair didn’t fall out, and all my scars where covered by clothing. I didn’t look like I had cancer. I didn’t FEEL like I was sick.

 Not until after treatment did I start to feel really sick because kidney cancer can be very sneaky. My doctor told me if the gallstone wouldn’t have caused a problem, I would have come to him much later and it would have probably been too late. I am so grateful for that gallstone.  

 Kidney Cancer is often found by accident.  My tumor was stage one, grade one and I have been deemed cancer free since January 7, 2014. 

And that sweet guy I was dating, he will be my husband as of June 2015 🙂 

 You don’t have to feel alone, REACH OUT! There are so many others who want to talk, but unfortunately your doctor probably won’t offer you resources like the ones stupidcancer.org can introduce you too. Also, search for young adult survivors in your area and don’t be afraid to reach out and start getting together. I meet with a group here in Austin pretty regularly, and it really helps just to connect with people who really “get it”. We are all working on getting a team together for our local Relay for Life coming up in September. Thanks for letting me share my story!

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