Debbie Farner

Intermediate magnification micrograph of an adrenocortical carcinoma (Courtesy of Wikipedia Commons)

For several months, I was in pain. I thought I had pulled a muscle in my back, or had kidney stones, or maybe a heart attack. I had no insurance, so I didn’t go to the doctor until the pain was unbearable.

My 16-year old daughter took me to the emergency room. They told her that I had a mass on my kidney, and was being transferred to another hospital for treatment. After 10 days in the hospital, they diagnosed me with adrenocortical carcinoma that had metastasized to both my lungs. The doctor told me to go home and enjoy my summer because I wouldn’t be here for Christmas.

I have three children that I want to see graduate from high school, get married, and have babies. I was not ready to give up.

Thank God my husband was stubborn. He took me to Roswell Park Cancer Institute, where we met a surgeon who said that only open, aggressive surgery would work. My first surgery took out my left adrenal gland, kidney, a tumor the size of my head, and 20 percent of my left lung. Six weeks later I had 20 percent of the other lung removed. My thoracic surgeon opened me up and felt for each little tumor and cut it out. I can’t thank him enough, because I later learned this is the only way to treat this cancer.

I later went to the University of Michigan to see Dr. Gary Hammer, who specializes in treating adrenocortical carcinoma. Because it is such a rare cancer there is not enough funding for the research. He recommended that I go on oral chemotherapy for a few years to prevent the cancer from returning. 

It has been three years and I have no evidence of disease. I still get a scan every six months because this is such an aggressive cancer.

I have seen all three of my children graduate from high school. My boys are in college, and my daughter is working. I need to be here to see the rest of my dreams come true!

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