HLRCC and its connection to kidney cancer was discovered in 2002. I was a freshman in high school.
Roughly 10% of patients with HLRCC will develop kidney cancer. I had just turned 29 when I joined these ranks in 2016.
If you are stage one upon diagnosis for any type of kidney cancer, you have a 93% chance of making it to your five year anniversary. If you are stage four upon diagnosis, that number drops to 10%.
Today – five days after my 34th birthday – is my five year mark.
Today feels monumental in a way that is difficult to describe. I had a glimmer of hope when I was first diagnosed that I would see today, but a gnawing sensation in my stomach took hold after my surgery. I wasn’t fully convinced it was gone. My worst fears were confirmed that August, when my scans showed it had not only been eradicated, but it had continued to metastasize. In a way, that was more painful and terrifying than the initial diagnosis. This damn thing is really hellbent killing me, I thought.
And it was, no doubt. Aggressive is an understatement. I crumpled to the bedroom floor when I finally had the courage to read my biopsy results from surgery: HLRCCs are typically associated with a poor prognosis with frequent metastasis, it read in black and white, with the same emotion as the weather report.
How did I make it? Why? Do you have any idea how many people I have watched die from this hellscape of a disease? Friends. People I considered family. People who knew some of the most intimate pieces, fears, and victories of my life.
I faced my own mortality with a metastatic cancer diagnosis, had a complete response to treatment, saw my mother receive the same diagnosis, and watched her die all in the span of less than three years.
I am no longer the same person I was on May 9, 2016. There is no way I ever could be.
But the person I am today? I love her. She is bruised, scarred, and striped. She is more emotive than she used to be. She has lost her tolerance for the frivolous and the polite.
But she is no longer afraid to be herself. She knows her hourglass ran out of sand five years ago, and she is no longer afraid to live with full-throated authenticity.
Two years ago, I decided to take a portrait of my nephrectomy scar. It was my way to reclaim my body, to tell my body I forgive her for the betrayal of trying to kill me. I have lived with the disquiet of wanting to hide my scar. Even after taking the photo, I was afraid to share it publicly for a long time. I was embarrassed to look at my own scar, and I threw away all my bikinis a long time ago.
But why? I’m not 18 anymore anyway. It tells my story. It is the story of Laura. The woman who dug deep when everything was against her. The woman who learned how to be her own heroine.
The woman I am proud to look at each day in the mirror. I love her, because I fought like hell to become her.
Here’s to the next five years.