In 2015, Carol Willis* was in her 19th year of teaching elementary school students. She had just downsized to a new home in Southern Louisiana that needed renovation, and she eagerly dove into numerous remodeling projects. When Carol began feeling tired and losing weight, she assumed the symptoms were a result of being stretched thin between working full-time and the physical toll of hands-on home renovation.
Her mother and daughter, both nurses, had noticed the changes in Carol, but she wasn’t too concerned. When she discovered a lump on her side, she again attributed it to her hard work around the house – possibly a hernia from all the heavy lifting. She brought the thought up to her mother and daughter, and they immediately raised the alarm. They explained that her symptoms weren’t consistent with a hernia and urged her to see a doctor as soon as possible.
Carol listened and ultimately learned she had advanced renal cell carcinoma (RCC), a type of kidney cancer. Though she underwent surgery to remove both the tumor and her right kidney, her doctors discovered that the cancer had spread to her lungs and liver.
“I don’t think anybody ever expects to be told ‘you have cancer,’ and my diagnosis certainly came as a surprise,” said Carol. “Kidney cancer threw me for a loop, but I didn’t want to waste any time worrying and not acting – I was determined to learn as much as I could as quickly as I could and find out what could be done to help beat it.”
Understanding Her Options
With her family by her side, Carol got to work. She browsed the internet for information, set up a series of appointments and talked to specialists about what to do next.
“I started writing down my questions or concerns anytime they came to mind, which helped me have meaningful conversations with my healthcare team. I felt like I was able to better understand my condition and my options,” Carol explained.
“It’s all about communication, whether you’re the patient or a family member,” Carol continued. “Never be afraid to ask questions and always share any health concerns, such as changes in symptoms. It’s what ultimately led me to receive the treatment that was right for me.”
Carol discussed options with her care team. Within a year of her diagnosis, she began treatment with a combination of two immunotherapy medicines, Opdivo® (nivolumab) + Yervoy® (ipilimumab), as part of a clinical trial studying these medicines in certain patients with RCC that has spread.
When Carol went for follow-ups with her doctor, she learned that her tumors shrank completely. (Results are not typical. Opdivo + Yervoy will not work for everyone, and results may vary.)
Carol credits her family with helping her stay encouraged and determined in the face of cancer. Now she wants to pay it forward – and hopes her experience will help someone else.
“It wasn’t always easy. The support of my family as well as the kidney cancer community made all the difference in how I was able to face my diagnosis and treatment,” explained Carol.
Today, whether it’s joining in a crawfish boil or just spending time with her family, Carol makes sure to cherish every moment she is given.
“As a wife, mom and grandma, I am grateful that I can today return to many of my favorite activities and hobbies – and, most importantly, that I have more time to spend with the people I love the most.”
Fortunately for patients like Carol, the Opdivo + Yervoy combination has been shown to help certain patients with advanced RCC live longer. Learn more about Opdivo + Yervoy and find out if it’s the right treatment option for you or your loved one.
*Carol is a Bristol-Myers Squibb Patient Ambassador.
What to Know About RCC
Renal cell carcinoma is the most common type of kidney cancer, accounting for about 90 percent of kidney cancer cases. Though no clear cause is known, risk factors can include age, smoking, obesity and high blood pressure. Many people with RCC don’t experience symptoms, but those who do may notice pain on one side, unexplained weight loss, blood in their urine and anemia.
If found in its earliest stages, RCC has a high survival rate. However, when diagnosed at an advanced stage, only around eight percent of patients live beyond five years – and the prognosis is even worse in patients with certain risk factors.
Opdivo® and Yervoy® are trademarks of Bristol-Myers Squibb Company. © 2018 Bristol-Myers Squibb Company. All Rights Reserved. 7356US1801502-01-01 8/18
Also of Interest