Over the last 11 years, Katy Tucker has endured a nephrectomy, Gamma Knife® radiosurgery and six chemotherapy drugs. And though the 71-year-old’s
kidney cancer treatment continues, she remains
as upbeat as ever.
“I’m blessed. I know I’m blessed,” she says.
A stage IV kidney cancer diagnosis
Katy was getting ready to run a half-marathon at age 60 when she
woke up one morning in January 2006 with a sharp pain on her left side.
“I called my doctor and he said, ‘Go to the ER because it sounds
like kidney stones,’” she recalls.
But a CT scan revealed a tumor larger than an orange on her left
kidney. She had stage IV renal cell carcinoma, the most common type of
“We were shocked. It was the furthest thing from my mind,” says the
yoga and swim instructor who’d always kept up with her physicals and screenings.
“We came home and my dear husband went to the computer and printed
everything about renal cell carcinoma. It wasn’t more than three
minutes before he says, ‘I’m taking this away. We’re not going to read
it,’” she says. “I put more weight on the positives and my husband
Stage IV kidney cancer treatment
The following week, Katy and her husband met with Surena Matin, M.D., who determined her tumor was
too big for laparoscopic surgery; so a few weeks later, on February
15, 2006, Louis Pisters, M.D., surgically removed Katy’s
left kidney. She showed no evidence of disease for nine months, until
a CT scan showed that the cancer had returned to the site of her
surgery and spread to her lungs.
Since then, it’s been a rollercoaster ride.
Under the care of Nizar Tannir, M.D., Katy has switched from one
chemotherapy drug and clinical trial to the next as her cancer
disappeared and returned over the next 10 years. She’s taken
sorafenib, interlukin-2, sunitinib, everolimus and the immunotherapy
When she learned that her cancer had metastasized to her brain in
October 2016, Amol Ghia, M.D., successfully treated all five
cancerous spots in a single Gamma Knife radiosurgery session. This
non-invasive treatment uses tiny radiation beams to accurately target
brain tumors with a single high dose of radiation. While she didn’t
experience any side effects, she wasn’t able to practice yoga for a
couple weeks and was restricted from driving for three days.
She’s currently taking axitinib to treat some cancerous spots that
have returned to the area where her left kidney was, as well as her
right kidney and right lung. Though they’ve all been tolerable, she’s
dealt with mouth sores, neuropathy in her fingers and low white blood cell counts.
Still, Katy is thankful for every day that greets her and the
unwavering support she’s received from her care team.
“My husband and I, we’re a team to start with — we’ll be married 50
years this December. Our kids, they’re part of our team, and MD Anderson is part of our team in this also,”
she says. “We’re all fighting this deadly disease together.”
Dealing with two cancer diagnoses in a family
“Devastated? Of course we are,” Katy says. “But we’re at the right place.”
She and Mike are dealing with their diagnoses the only way they know
how: by living as normally as possible. He recently returned from a
road trip with their grandson, while she still teaches yoga and
swimming classes several times a week.
As Katy says, “We keep moving on, and we keep fighting.”
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