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How A Gallstone May End Up Saving My Life – Kidney Cancer Association –

This is a guest post by Kieran Smith, 55, a musician based in northern California.

Late last year, a gallstone blocked a duct in my gallbladder, and I went to the ER. After an hour or two, with the help of an IV, the stone dislodged itself and I felt better. The ER staff was going to release me, but I insisted on a CT scan to confirm the diagnosis.

Kieran with his son Brendan, wife Sue, and daughters Megan and Allison.

I am very glad I did.

The scan incidentally (meaning by chance) found a mass on my right kidney. A follow up MRI confirmed that I had clear cell renal carcinoma – kidney cancer.

Because I was a good candidate for surgery, I chose to have a partial nephrectomy of my right kidney. The procedure went well. The surgeon removed my stage 1 tumor and the procedure showed that I had clear margins, which is a good sign for me.

There must be someone, somewhere looking out for me. There were so many unusual events that had to come together to discover the tumor at an early stage. I was healthy all my life, never spent a night in the hospital pre-diagnosis.

If the tumor had not been caught when it was, it would have been difficult to know when they would have had a chance to catch it. I would have had a dangerous tumor growing and each month that went by would have given the tumor the opportunity to spread to other parts of my body. I had to deal with my mortality for the first time. It was always in the background as an unlikely event (natural disaster accident etc.) but this was the first time I was face to face with the fact that I may get sick and not survive.

I will have imaging on a regular basis for the foreseeable future to prevent another tumor from getting the chance to hide and grow.

I feel people often take for granted all the medical advancements that have gone on in such a rapid fashion. My procedure would have been far more difficult, and I would have faced much greater complications, if not for today’s modern devices (in my case the Intuitive Surgical DaVinci XI robotic surgical machines). My grandmother would have survived her cardiovascular disease with the medical device technology of today instead of passing at 60.

I also live every day knowing that my daughter, who has Type 1 diabetes, would have been buried at 5 without the production of insulin and as importantly the tremendous advances in medical devices and testing that give her and other Type 1’s the ability to manage their disease in ways impossible even 15 years ago.

The employees who dedicate their lives to the development, production, and refinement of these machines and devices deserve our gratitude. My surgery was the result of med techs, lab workers, and countless others who operate and work with imaging machines, process their results, and provide the best opportunity for a patient to have the best possible result through their hard work and expertise. I am forever in your gratitude.

To the staff of Stanford hospital and medical workers everywhere: You are truly angels walking among us. The staff at the OR, the recovery wing, and the therapists were incredible. They provided compassionate relief to people who were suffering greatly. Their professionalism and grace, which was magnificent to observe, is often overlooked and they deserve all the credit in the world.

I was also amazed at the support from people at all points of my life. Most of us have had a relative who has gone through a health issue and the words of kindness go a long way. I had always expressed support online to friends and acquaintances but never realized how much it meant when you were counting down the days to surgery and biopsy results. Never underestimate what a kind message can do for someone in need.

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Kieran’s latest album cover art and song “Unspeakably Wonderful”.

I am a musician and hope to start playing gigs again and promoting my music after this unforeseen delay. My album “Unspeakably Wonderful” was released exactly 1 month before my kidney cancer diagnosis and is inspired by the discovery of insulin and how my daughter survives only due to its discovery.

Music is a wonderful outlet to let those you love to know what they mean to you. I’ve always been observant of others and this experience was no different. It was me looking up from the hospital bed instead of me helping the person in the bed. That vulnerability and uncertainty produces some intense emotional responses which I hope to reflect in future music. 

To all the brave souls fighting this disease, your strength is inspiring, and I wish us all success in your fight against this disease.