now reading:

How I Discovered I Have Kidney Cancer

share post:

back to top 

Dealing with Kidney Cancer

Self Growth

How I Discovered I Have Kidney Cancer

September 3, 2018

by: Rachel Rhee

Unbelievable that I am creating cancer content on this site. Hopefully there won’t be too many posts 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 Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

  1. Amanda Howard says:

    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! ????

  2. Maura says:

    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

    • Rachel says:

      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

  3. Anna says:

    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!

  4. Rich Dunn says:

    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.

  5. Larry Weaver says:

    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.

    • Rachel says:

      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.

  6. Lori says:

    How are you doing now Rachel?

I'm looking for support with:

explore the blog

More on the Blog

I'm looking for support with:

self growth

career + finance






do good

How to give back and do good for society. Image of canned goods and donated goods.

Life can be complicated but some things just aren’t. If someone is in need, you help. With so many organizations, causes, and those that need assistance – how do you navigate which causes to be a part of or give back to? Here are some tips on how to identify where and how you can start […]

5 simple sustainable living habits for beginners that you can implement today.
It is hard to know where to begin with volunteer work. Here are a few resources that can help you find the cause that is right for you. #Volunteerism #Volunteer #SocialImpact #NonProfitOrganization
Some life lessons to know about relationships as you become an adult.

If you are an adult dealing with relationships then you already know how hard they can be. However, you will also know how rewarding they are. You potentially get to spend the rest of your life with the one person you love. Getting married, having children, and buying your own place are some of the […]

It can be daunting to make friends as an adult with limited outlets the older you get. But that doesn't mean it's not possible. It takes getting out of your comfort zone and knowing where to look but know that it is possible with the following tips. #Friendships #Relationship #MentalWellness #MentalWellbeing #TheDimpleLife

It can be really daunting to make friends as an adult. As you grow into adulthood, it seems like there’s more opportunity to create relationships with your classmates in school, with your coworkers at work, and through various social settings. As you fully step into adulthood and enter different phases of your life though those […]

Why teaching 'family first' doesn't work all the time. #FamilyRelationships #HealthyRelationships #Boundaries #TheDimpleLife

Ever since I was in elementary school, I can remember a school project where I presented that the most important motto to me is “Family First”. This thinking was engrained into my upbringing from a very early age. On surface level, it’s quite beautiful. Family truly will always mean so much to me. However, at […]

How to moisturize and revitalize dry, winter skin. Here is an image of a young Asian woman applying moisturizer cream to her face.

In the cold winter months coming, your skin takes a major hit in how youthful and moisturized it looks and feels. Your skin, which is the largest organ of your body, needs consistent care throughout all the seasons of the year. Of course if you have access to steam treatments, that is one way to […]

This post is about our top 7 day spas in Vancouver.

From traditional Thai wellness to luxurious treatments inspired by the Far East, Vancouver offers a diverse array of spa experiences that cater to every relaxation seeker. In our face-paced lives, it’s easy to get caught up in the hustle of a day which can lead you to neglecting the one person who truly deserves a […]

Luxurious and voluminous hair is possible in colder months!

Winter is just around the corner and the cold months ahead mean chunky sweaters, snowfall, and quality time spent wrapped up in a blanket by the fireplace with your loved ones. However, as you revel in the winter activities and embrace the cozy change in weather, your hair might not share the same enthusiasm. The […]

Home moving tips that will relieve you from stress during a transitionary time.

When you move you are leaving behind memories as well as allowing yourself to move forward and make new memories. There is a lot to organize and plan to make sure it’s done without a hitch, therefore, it pays off to be organized and have a plan. If you are moving soon, you will want […]

This post is about a Holiday Gift Guide for the Tech Nerds.

The holiday season is upon us, and if you’re struggling to find the perfect gift for the tech enthusiast in your life, look no further! In this comprehensive holiday gift guide, we’ve curated a selection of cutting-edge gadgets and accessories that will delight even the most discerning tech nerds. From innovative smart devices to gaming […]

Learn simple tips on how to host a successful holiday dinner party.

The holiday season is synonymous with warmth, laughter, and, of course, delicious meals shared with loved ones. Hosting a holiday dinner party can be a joyous experience, offering you the opportunity to create lasting memories and share your love for food and company. However, orchestrating such an event can be overwhelming without proper planning and […]

Every day tips on how to strengthen your core muscles for better health.

We all know, working out is a must to staying healthy but when people think about “working out” they think about more intensive, hour-long exercise classes. It’s time to dismantle some of our beliefs around exercise though. You don’t have to go to a workout class, you don’t have to dedicate a certain amount of […]

This post is about releasing your stress at these yoga studios in Vancouver.

Yoga, with its profound emphasis on mental and physical well-being, serves as a sanctuary for many. Fortunately, Vancouver boasts a myriad of yoga studios that not only provide a tranquil escape from the chaos but also offer unique amenities and specialized practices tailored to cater to various needs. Let’s explore some of the best yoga […]

This post is about 7 products you need for a stress free travel.

Traveling can be an exhilarating and transformative experience for fun, adventure, and opportunities to grow. It allows us to explore new places, cultures, and cuisines. However, amidst the excitement, the journey itself can sometimes become overwhelming, especially if you’re not adequately prepared. The best thing we have realized through travel is if you have a […]

Kitchen tips for cooking beginners

Not everyone is a natural in the kitchen. Some people have their skills in other areas, but just because you don’t naturally have an affinity for cooking doesn’t mean you can’t learn – and ultimately be great in the kitchen! Like with most other things you try, the beginning can be tough but the most […]

This post is about healthy food spots in Vancouver.

Vancouver boasts a plethora of dining options that cater to those with a passion for nutritious meals. Let’s explore five standout healthy spots in Vancouver where you can savor fresh, locally sourced ingredients and nourish your body. Read on to discover a few of Vancouver’s healthy food spots to hit up! The Chopped Leaf Our […]

This post is about our favorite cafes in Vancouver to get work done at.

Vancouver boasts a vibrant cafe culture, offering a plethora of options for those seeking a productive environment to work or conduct business meetings. While the city is filled with cafes, finding the perfect balance between a peaceful atmosphere and good tasting espresso can be a challenge. With mid-term exams fast approaching and business meetings always […]

There are so many ways to be well. Sure of course taking care of your physical health is a given but what about your financial well-being? Truthfully, if you are not financially well, it can affect your mental and physical health. Intentionally looking at your finances is essential for building a secure future and living […]

Tips on how to manage your time with the pomodoro technique

In a time when “hustle culture” is glamorized and work ethic is praised above all else, taking breaks to increase productivity can seem counter-intuitive. Pacing out your day to create dedicated moments of work and rest can greatly enhance your work experience. It also enhances motivation, creativity, and strategic thinking. The Pomodoro Technique allows you […]

Overhead shot of female entrepreneur working on her computer.

If you have the desire in becoming an entrepreneur and starting your own business journey, there are so many steps or reminders you need to keep things running smoothly, especially in the beginning stages. There will always be so much to do and if you are used to being a specialist in one area of […]

This is for a guide on how to disconnect and recharge in December. The image is a person holding a coffee mug with a cozy blanket.

A woman holding up flowers to the sky. Learn how to get into touch with yourself

Sometimes when our energy is so outwardly expended, it can be very easy to quickly lose touch with ourselves. Especially when it comes to the holiday seasons, it’s important to find time to take a “time out” and look inward into where we can find slow moments to grow. When we take a moment to […]

This post is about Vancouver's top 5 activities and destinations to de-stress.

Amidst the face-paced culture we live in, finding effective ways to unwind and destress isn’t just a luxury but a necessity. Let’s dive into Vancouver’s top 5 activities and destinations that not only provide a break from the daily grind but also play a pivotal role in promoting mental and physical well-being. Sabai Thai Spa […]

© 2023 3R Media. All Rights Reserved  |  Privacy Policy  |  Terms & Conditions

Site by Sunday Stories

© 2023 3R Media. All rights reserved.
Read our Privacy Policy & Terms & ConDitions