How I Discovered I Have Kidney Cancer + My Fears With Cancer

I started a new category on my blog titled Cancer where I can document the events throughout this new journey and express some of my feelings. Hopefully there won’t be too many posts in this category and I can close this chapter soon… The meaning of all of this is what I’m currently trying to understand. Some days I believe that my purpose is to use this hardship and difficult circumstance and turn this into an opportunity to connect and help others. Other times I get so down and constantly find myself questioning “Why me? Did I do something bad? Am I a terrible person?”…

On Sunday, August 26 I remember waking up early because there was a community garden meeting at 8:30am. It’s where all my neighbors who have a garden plot come together once a quarter, clean up the garden and talk about plans for how we want to treat our crops for the following season. I remember feeling very drained that morning. I had gone to the beach the previous day so I thought perhaps I felt really tired from that, or maybe it’s just because waking up early on a weekend morning isn’t fun.

The meeting lasted all morning – we pulled up weeds, raked up leaves, and got to know each other. At around 10am I started feeling even more tired though, even after a cup of matcha, so I excused myself from the group and went back up to my loft so I can rest. I gave myself time to nap a little and then I had to drive down to Orange County because August 26 also happens to be my dad’s birthday.

We had a family lunch together and I stayed around the house to just spend some quality time with my parents. My intent was to come back up to LA early that evening but I still felt exhausted so I ended up sleeping at my parents and decided I would go drive back home in the morning. I had no idea that this extreme fatigue I felt all day was actually a symptom of my cancer.

I wake up naturally each morning around 6am and Monday was no different. I got up, went to the bathroom, had a couple sips of water, read a few articles on my CNN app and decided to get a few more minutes of sleep, it was around 6:30 by this point. But at roughly 7am, I woke up abruptly with sharp pains in my lower right abdomen. A lot of extreme cramping, to the point where I couldn’t stand up straight. Definitely worse than any menstrual cramp I had ever experienced. I held onto my abdomen, with my back hunched over, and walked to the bathroom. Within the few seconds it took me to get to the bathroom, I started getting very nauseous. Once I got to the toilet, I immediately had to throw up. Nothing came out except for bile and the water I had just had a few minutes prior. I usually feel better after I’ve had to vomit in the past but this time was different. Just as I got up from the floor, with the sharp cramping I was experiencing in my abdomen continuing to poke at me like sharp knives, I started feeling sharp pains in my lower right back. At this point I used my cell to call my mom who was downstairs and moaned through the phone for her to come upstairs. She couldn’t even understand me through all my groaning but she knew something was wrong.

As I waited for my mom to come upstairs I started sweating profusely. I took off all my clothes because I just felt so suffocated. I didn’t want anything touching me. Imagine the most intense, sweaty spin class you’ve taken – that amount of sweat was on my bathroom floor in the matter of seconds.

While still sweating, I had a sudden urge to go pee and when I got up to flush, I noticed the whole toilet was a dark red. Almost like the color of coca-cola with a red tint. I thought maybe I had started my cycle which would make sense with all of my cramping. Except, I also threw up. And I also had extreme lower back pain. There was just too much going on for this to just be my period.

When my mom came upstairs, she hadn’t seen the blood, so when I told her, I’m not sure she completely understood. So she said that since I had stomach cramping, I should lie down and she would give me a heating pad. She said put the heating pad on my stomach for 30 minutes, put an acupressure ball on my lower back pain and it will get better slowly.

Well, it didn’t after a few minutes and at this point I was bawling in pain. I had to use the bathroom again, even though I had just gone, and when I did I saw the same intense red and I knew that for sure this was not ok and I needed to go to the ER.

As I was getting ready to go to the ER with my mom, Tiger Lily knew I was behaving differently but I don’t think she knew quite yet that I was so sick because sleepy her was still in bed for most of this time. When I went downstairs, Tiger Lily came down too – she just loves following me first thing in the morning. She saw her favorite squeaky toy across the room, ran for it and brought it back to me with her cute little butt up in the air and her tail wagging. We love playing together in the morning. She dropped the toy in front of me but I was hunched over on the sofa and couldn’t throw it and at this point she knew I was sick so she jumped up on the sofa to sit right next to me, flesh to fur. I felt so bad to worry her. My poor Tiger Lily. 🙁

When my mom pulled up to the ER, someone was out front to give me a wheelchair and help me to the intake area. After describing my symptoms, the nurse said that I likely had kidney stones and after a CT scan they’d be able to prescribe me some medication to take at home and the stones would pass in a few days. I’ve never had kidney stones before so I had no idea that this is what it could be like!

What seemed like hours and hours later, I finally got taken to do a scan but it took a while for a doctor to come see me with the results. I know things can move slowly in a hospital since there are so many patients, but it felt abnormally slow. A doctor finally came and asked me ‘Have you ever had any surgeries? Have you ever had any tumors?’ I did have a benign tumor on my breast that was removed years ago so I let her know this and she finally said –

We found a large abnormal mass on your right kidney. You don’t have kidney stones. You need to stay in the hospital so we can monitor your vitals and you need to see a urologist today.

I didn’t quite know how to process that. An abnormal mass. What was she trying to tell me?

I was wheeled to my hospital room and was put on morphine immediately because the pain medication they used on me in the ER was wearing off.

I remember sleeping for most of the afternoon – morphine makes me sleepy! And finally I was taken to get another CT scan except this time with contrast. This means that a dye would be injected into my IV and this would help my doctor see exactly where the outline of the mass and kidney are. Without it everything just looks very jumbly in a scan. Contrast helps doctors see the details.

If you’ve never done a CT scan, you basically lie down on a moving bed and you shift in and out of an open cylindrical machine. The actual scan is nothing to be afraid of but for me, as I was waiting for the technician to set up the machine, I remember feeling very afraid. Afraid I was going to die soon. I didn’t know what they would find. The only thing I knew was that I had an “abnormal mass”. Looking up at the fluorescent lights of the cold X-ray room, my exact thought was,

There are so many more walks I want to go on with Tiger Lily.

With the CT scan w/ contrast, the radiologist and urologist were able to see that the mass was approximately 8cm and it spanned nearly the entire kidney. They also took scans of my chest area and pelvic region to ensure that there weren’t any other abnormalities and I’m beyond grateful that there weren’t. The immediate solution the urologist gave to me though is that I need surgery. No biopsy could be taken, I just need to remove it asap. This doctor in particular just outright told me

This is kidney cancer.

Way to soften it up for a patient…

After the initial diagnosis, I went to see many different urologists and finally found a doctor I feel comfortable with and who I really feel cares about me. My surgery is set for September 11 at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center and I am beyond anxious. A part of me wants to have the surgery sooner so I can remove the tumor quick, but a part of me is scared to have it sooner because what if there’s a complication…that means I have that many fewer days here… It’s such a morbid thought, I know, but it’s a real feeling and fear I have. Anything can happen when you’re under. There’s so much I want to do in life and I’m just not ready! My family needs me. My Tiger Lily needs me.

Currently, I feel anxious, overwhelmed, frustrated, and scared. I’m reminding myself to focus on the good and that I have so much to be grateful for – that it has not metastasized and it is contained to my kidney. By what it sounds like from doctors, it is not stage 4. I have a loving family. I have a loving community of friends both in real life and around the world through Instagram. I have the cutest, most playful dog ever. I guess I know I have so much in my life, which is why I don’t want to leave it… I’m trusting that God has a greater plan for me.

And a note to future Rachel after you wake up and fully recover from surgery: Stop worrying so much. Chill out. Breathe. You are way more tough than you ever realized. Do something with this struggle to help others reconnect with the strength that is inside each of us.

Leave a Comment


  1. Amanda Howard wrote:

    Thank you so much for being so open and sharing with me/is what happened and how you are feeling. I wish there was so much more I could do for you but know I’m constantly thinking and praying for you! I know you’ve got this! 😘

    Posted 9.3.18 Reply
  2. Maura wrote:

    Hi! I found your site through Jess Kirby and I’m so glad I did. First, I’m so sorry you’re going through this. Secondly, thank you for being so open about your experience. It takes a strong and brave person to share any emotional stage of life but stages dealing with anything health related are particularly difficult. My mom was recently diagnosed with kidney cancer too (8cm to her right kidney) and presented with similar symptoms. Luckily, she too didn’t have anything else on her other scans and I took a sigh of relief. I don’t know if this will be helpful to you but she tolerated surgery well (she’s in her late 50s!) and was out of the hospital quickly (2 days!). She’s taken time off from work & has been letting herself heal – taking things day by day. She just had her 3 month post op scans and we’re anxiously awaiting the results though both her surgeon and medical oncologist have been very positive so far. Sorry for the rambling but I want to offer up something encouraging! Know what you share is important and is touching other people! I wish you all the best and will be sending good juju to you on your surgery day!! Xo Maura

    Posted 9.7.18 Reply
    • Rachel wrote:

      Oh my gosh thank you so much for this message! And I’m so happy to hear that your mom is doing well! Please keep me updated on how her 3 month scan looks. I had surgery just 4 days ago and the hospital also discharged me 2 nights after surgery. The doctor thinks it’s better for patients to heal at home and the healing process will go by quicker too being in a more comfortable environment. I don’t disagree! My tumor was also 8cm but thankfully it all got taken out for me too. I heard it’s much more rare for females to get kidney cancer – we just happen to be the lucky ones!

      Thank you so much for reaching out and the support! Wishing you and your family many many healthy and happy years to share together 🙂 xo

      Posted 9.15.18 Reply
  3. Anna wrote:

    Hi Rachel, I found your blog because I am considering leaving my current consulting job. I was googling around and found your blogpost. I am very sorry about what your are going through. I am glad you had a successful surgery and hope you are on your way of recovering! Wishing you all the best!

    Posted 9.20.18 Reply
    • Rachel wrote:

      Thank you so much Anna for your support! If you ever have any questions about consulting and leaving that world, definitely just feel free to contact me via email! 🙂

      Posted 10.8.18 Reply
  4. Rich Dunn wrote:

    When I heard that Sen. Mazie Hirono of Hawaii had been diagnosed with Stage 4 kidney cancer, I tried my best to get ahold of a staffer who would allow me walk them through some groundbreaking science at the University of Nevada that points the way to a nutritional cure for cancer. It’s very simple, completely safe, and amazingly effective — I know because I cured myself using it, as have a handful of others.

    After nine months, still no response from Sen. Hirono’s staff, so I’ve decided to start reaching out to others who might be able to benefit from it. I even give out my cell phone number (775-434-8783) and promise to explain what’s involved in detail to anyone interested. I know from experience that it can’t be explained understandably in writing — people almost always misunderstand it at first blush, though emails are useful for follow-ups.

    So if anybody reading this knows someone who might be able to benefit from it, feel free to give me a call or email me a number with the best time to call you back. I’m very busy and don’t have any time to fritter away in idle conversation, but if sharing this important information ends up saving a life, I’m happy to make time for it.

    Posted 9.20.18 Reply
  5. Thank you for discussing kidney cancer. My wife has been showing strange signs of symptoms that might be kidney cancer. We will be sure to visit a doctor right away to get checked for kidney cancer.

    Posted 7.30.19 Reply
    • Rachel wrote:

      Yes of course, any time. I hope she gets checked soon! I am sending you my thoughts that it is not kidney cancer. Please let me know though if there’s any questions you may have.

      Posted 8.5.19 Reply
  6. Lori wrote:

    How are you doing now Rachel?

    Posted 11.23.19 Reply
    • Rachel wrote:

      Thank you so much for asking! I’m doing fine now and the surgery I had removed all of it 🙂

      Posted 12.9.19 Reply


  • Taking the steps to heal is exhausting. Honestly, it’s not been an enjoyable path to go on. While not enjoyable, it’s certainly been necessary for my mental, emotional, and physical well being.

It takes a lot of energy and effort to try and pick your life up after you have experienced a trauma or loss of any kind. And we all do experience it. It can happen in different forms - loss of a loved one, a romantic relationship, a friendship, a job, health, or a myriad of other hardships.

I wanted to share what I’ve been doing over the past few weeks in hopes that it could maybe be applied to your unique path to healing and growth. #linkinbio Remember that these are my personal ways I’ve made steps toward more healing in my life. It may not work for you and that’s ok. Your path could look entirely different. Do what feels right for you, in your own time. ❤️ #emotionalwellness #healingjourney #mentalhealth
  • This weekend I gave my baby Tiger Lily a memorial service. I wanted to make it special for her so I surrounded her with her favorite toys and treats. I tried to remember her by sharing funny little things she did; all her quirkiness. She will always be the very best girl. Night night Tiger, I will see you in the morning. 🌈 I love you forever and ever and ever. ❤️
  • This weekend @blogher I spoke about the importance of owning your health and being your best health self-advocate.

It takes time to find the right medical professional for you but it’s time well spent because the doctor-patient relationship is one of the most intimate you can have.

Assess what your priorities are when finding a doctor, conduct interviews, don’t be afraid to seek a second/third opinion, do your own research, and have open communication. You know your body and your needs better than anyone.

The more you use your voice at the doctor’s office (or in any situation), the more powerful your voice becomes. ✨ #blogher20 #womenshealth
  • Still in pain. Still grieving. Still feel empty. I’m not sure when these feelings will lessen but this week I told myself that every day I would try to work on myself a little bit. So I’ve meditated two days. I remembered to take my medication. I scheduled a time to see a bereavement counselor. I tried to refocus energy on work.

The rest of the time I cry. I sleep. I put on the TV to shut out the thoughts inside my head. I found myself Googling “How to heal from loss” and the first point I read was “Do what feels right for you” so I’ve been trying. Constantly checking in with myself to see what my needs are. Hoping these little daily steps will help me regain more purpose in my life.

If you’re trying to cope with grief or loss, sending you a hug. Take your time and “do what feels right for you” ❤️
  • My parents had a pre-planned trip to Atlanta this week and since I’ve been staying with them, they insisted I shouldn’t be alone right now. Maybe they’re right. So, I’m off to Atlanta for a couple days. I know you can’t necessarily escape your problems but maybe being in a new environment will help me breathe a little more, if even for a few minutes throughout the day. 
I went to @sprouts before heading to the airport so that my family and I will have snacks for the flight and for our time there. Grabbed a bunch of fruit because it’s so easy and @hippeas_snacks since they are organic, vegan, and gluten-free. They’re on sale now @sprouts #ImAHippea #HippeasPartner
  • Tiger came into my life one month before I was diagnosed with cancer. I had to rest so much in the early days when I had her. I would get tired and have to sleep or lay down for most of the day leading up to my surgery.

On surgery day, I was terrified. I thought I wouldn’t wake up. So on the surgery room table, before I could feel the anesthesia, I told the surgery team my “final” words, ‘Tell my mom and Tiger Lily I love them’. She was always my priority. Always my family.

When I eventually woke up the first thing I asked my mom is ‘Where is Tiger Lily? How is she?’ I was even trying to get my mom to sneak her into my hospital room but security stopped her. I couldn’t wait to have her in my lap.

I eventually got discharged from the hospital and I had to spend weeks on the sofa downstairs because I couldn’t make it to the bed on the second floor. So on a narrow sofa, Tiger and I slept together, all day. I felt so bad for her since she seemed so bored and she was only sleeping next to me because her mama was recovering.

I made little promises to her though, I would make it to the patio and sit down there for a few minutes so I could throw her toy with her (she would only play fetch with me). Then eventually I was able to take slow walks with her and sit down on a park bench while she played.

She helped me focus my energy on getting better for her. No one else could take care of her, like I could. I got stronger for her. Tiger Lily gave me purpose each day. Baby Tiger helped me heal.

Maybe this is part of why the pain is unbearable. We’ve been through so much, even in our short time together. The pain today feels just as excruciating and suffocating like it did a week ago. Praying tomorrow will be better. 💔
  • The story of how my baby Tiger Lily came into my life

March 2018 my family and I lost our family Pomchi, Puffy. She had been with us for 13 years. She was my parents baby and I was the fun sister that got to come hang with her.

When we lost her I felt an emptiness and wanted some doggy energy around. I thought fostering seemed interesting. It’s temporary. I’ll foster a dog for a couple days and then that’s it.

One day I scrolled and found Dogs Without Borders. I came across a little Tiger Lily. What a funny name, I thought. There was something about her that I was drawn to. I think it was the ears.

I was still nervous about it and didn’t know if I could handle it but one day I went out to dinner with friends and we were talking about it. There just happened to be Tiger hot sauce on the table and it said TRY ME. We laughed, I had never seen that type of sauce before! It was definitely a sign.

So I fostered her and I remember I kept her blocked off in an area of my house. There’s no way I was just letting her run free where ever she wanted to go.

Then I started seeing how scared she was. She would regularly shake; so confused as to where she was. ‘I’m a good girl why is my life like this’ she probably thought.  So I became more lenient so she could feel more at ease. I guess fine she could be on the sofa once in a while when I was around but only on her pillow. I guess fine she could be on my bed but only if she stayed on her side. Boundaries only really lasted a couple days. I’m weak.

Then after just less than a week, her former foster family wanted to adopt her. I had been thinking of adopting her but then thought it was better for her to go with them. They were a couple with other animals in the house so it felt like a fun, full home for Tiger to be in.

After just two days, the couple told me they changed their mind. If I didn’t want her then they’d end up returning her back to DWB. I was livid. Once you commit to adopting a baby, there is a no refund policy. Baby adoptions are not merchandise to exchange for another fit. I missed her and didn’t want Tiger to go through another transfer so I decided to adopt her myself. (contd in comments)
  • Rest in peace my love. My little baby Tiger Lily. I don’t know what happened. It was so sudden. You were fine on Friday! Maybe a little stomach upset on Saturday and then Sunday you could barely wag your tail when you saw me. I wish I noticed more signs so I could know how sick you were. Were you telling me something sooner and I didn’t know? You left me and my heart is not broken in half. My heart is completely shattered. I am so sorry for letting you down. I was trying to save you like you saved me. I tried to be the very best mama to you. I barely left you alone. I never wanted you to feel abandoned and lonely because that’s what you grew up knowing. (Don’t worry I won’t tell anyone I would sneak you into places you weren’t supposed to be in.) I always played with you (Stay. Stay. Find it!) I always bought you the best food - nothing but organic, all natural, and premium quality for my baby! I remember I would be so tired sometimes but I’d go out to Whole Foods to buy you steak just as a treat for being you. I wanted you to know how loved and OBSESSED I was all the time. I know you were obsessed with me too. Your grandparents would always call you “piece of gum on mom’s shoe” because you were just stuck to me like glue! You always had to be touching me, no matter what. If you didn’t see me in eyesight you would panic!

When I first got you I wasn’t sure what to expect. Would you like me? Would you be a lot of work? I could not have asked for a more perfect baby. You always listened to your mama, except for when it was bed time and you insisted on taking my side of the bed. I always pretended to be annoyed but what did I tell you every night? I said ‘Little baby Tiger Lily I love you, you’re the very best girl. I’m going to see you tomorrow and I hope you dream about all the yummy treats we’re going to eat’. Sweet baby, you were so strong. You struggled all day yesterday and when the doctor said there’s not much hope I took you home so you could be comfortable. You were so brave to be strong enough to be in the car in my arms and to make it all the way home. I didn’t let you go and you took your last breath in my arms. Snuggled with all your blankies. (contd)
  • 💔EMERGENCY: Is anyone a vet or a homeopathic animal doctor? Tigers condition has worsened over night. Doctors don’t know what the cause is, they’ve thrown out words like sepsis, hemorrhagic gastroenteritis, anaphylaxis, they just don’t know.

Facts: Swollen gallbladder, low body temp, stomach is fluid filled, slight water in lungs, now in an oxygen cage... - doctor says her stomach and gastrointestinal system is not working. I don’t know what to do. Maybe another opinion or doctor would know. I have a copy of blood results to help.

Please forward to anyone who might have another opinion. My heart hurts I can’t breathe and I need to save her like she saved me. 💔🙏
  • Currently at the emergency animal hospital where I had to admit Tiger Lily for overnight observation and testing. She had been feeling ill since yesterday. Little stomach upsets usually go away quickly but today she started also having slow reactions, not blinking and experiencing heavy breathing. The vet said she is “pretty sick” with low blood pressure. She may have pancreatitis or some type of gastric complication.

Pancreatitis is what my 13 year old family dog, Puffy, passed away from back in 2018. So to hear that Tiger Lily may have this... 💔 Pray for Tiger please. Anyone that knows me even a little knows exactly how much she means to me and I just can’t have her be sick because I need her. ❤️
  • With all the supplements out there sometimes it can be hard to know what actually works. I have been taking probiotics for years and I like to switch them up every once in a while. #Ad I just started @seed’s Daily Synbiotic which I’ve found isn’t just any probiotic. What I appreciate about @seed is that they’re pioneering a “next-generation” probiotic, based on science.

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  • What is your approach to food? I try to eat mostly plant-based but I allow myself the freedom to eat what my body craves that day. All foods fit over here!

Today on the blog I’m breaking down an easy approach to changing mindset around food choices. 🥑 #intuitiveeating #eatingwell #allfoodsfit #healthyliving

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