Hi, I’m Rhys Williams and I’m 36, married with two dogs and until recently very active. I am a serving police officer in the West Midlands and would describe myself as extremely fit. I’ve gone through life with barely more than a couple of days being sick, ploughing through swine flu and other viruses like a mild cold. I am a very keen cyclist amongst other sports and would not think twice about hopping on my bike for a hundred plus mile bike ride.
In July 2014 I had a really bad case of gastroenteritis, I’ve had this before, part of the territory that comes with rushing around at work with little or no time to eat, but this was horrendous and went on for over a week. After speaking with the GP, he arranged some tests and some of my levels were a little high so I was sent for further tests as they were concerned that I could have colitis.
After a colonoscopy I had an MRI on my small intestines in October 2014. I had a letter back from the colorectal consultant at the beginning of November 2014 that there were no signs of colitis but there was a small lesion on my right kidney.
I have a good understanding of physiology so looked on a few health sites. I don’t drink, don’t smoke, exercise a lot and had no history of cancer in my family so I thought it must be a cyst – no problems!
As it was just a cyst I went to Sandwell Hospital in mid November on my own and was told that it was a tumour. My brain turned to jelly and could not function, struggled to even operate the car. I was told that the surgery would be simple and there was no point doing a biopsy as it shouldn’t be there and they would grade it after surgery
I was booked in for a laparoscopic partial nephrectomy using the Da Vinci robot at the QE hospital for the end of January 2015. I kind of got the feeling that I was an excuse for the surgeon to play with a new toy but was happy to have the surgery in this manner. The operation was put back a couple of weeks and eventually took place on 10th Feb 2015.
Because it had been sold to me a key hole surgery, I hadn’t really thought about the surgery and had even watched videos online of how it would work. It wasn’t until I sat on the trolley to be taken into the operating theatre the term “major surgery” was used.
I was in theatre for 6 hours as the tumour was located on the rear of the lower pole of my right kidney. I had a horrendous reaction to the anaesthetic so spent that evening and the next day throwing up and being completely out of it. After the second night I started to feel better and was only taking paracetamol for the pain. I could hear the ward sister having phone calls about not having bed space so pushed to be discharged. If only I had known how far the ward was from the hospital entrance I would have asked for a wheelchair.
A couple of weeks later I was told it was a 15mm grade 1 stage 1 (pt1a) RCC tumour. This was the hardest part for me, as statistically I knew there was a 90% chance it was cancerous, but I had spent 2 months being careful not to say to anyone I had cancer, just a tumour.
I have been very lucky. The cancer could not have been caught any sooner and I owe a lot to the on the ball radiographer who looked at my MRI scan. I had no symptoms associated with kidney cancer apart from fatigue and back ache, but these could have been psychosomatic.
The cancer itself has not had any impact on my body, it is the surgery that has done the damage, possibly compounded by my over eagerness to start exercising again. After the tumour was found I stupidly signed up to do a 150 mile bike ride in Wales to raise money for Macmillan as I was told I would be back to normal in 3-4 months. It appears what I deemed as normal is different to the consultant meant and I have developed chronic back pain.. Doing too much too soon has probably put my recovery back 9-12 months. I have had to have intensive physio and chiropractic work since June 2015 and I’m probably back to 90%. I’m still not cycling that much due to my back issues but I’ve renewed my participation with basketball as I can play for a bit, then sit down, then play again. Having an involvement with a team has been a great mental and physical release.
Mentally, it has been hard to come to term with this. At first every waking moment was spent thinking about cancer. I joined KCSN and initially it made me feel worse, hearing of other people’s misfortune or losing their fight with this horrible disease. As time went on I began to feel comforted by the group being a safe place to vent and have people who genuinely know what it was like. I have also been lucky enough to have a Mac nurse to speak to since my first urology appointment. She has been amazing and quick to answer any questions.
I have done a couple of press releases at work to encourage colleagues to get any persistent symptoms checked out which has led to a few potentially nasty conditions being diagnosed early.