Hi, I’m Charlotte (Lottie) and I was diagnosed with kidney cancer just a few weeks after losing my husband, Andy, to kidney cancer (his story can be found here).

Andy had battled kidney cancer for nearly 14 years and sadly passed away on 13th February 2024. In the couple of months leading up to my diagnosis I had been experiencing a few symptoms – weight loss, tiredness and night sweats. Given everything that was going on, I dismissed these and put them down to stress and then grief. Just under two weeks after Andy’s funeral, I noticed a very small amount of blood in my urine one Sunday morning. I had a virtual GP appointment for something else the following morning so I made a mental note to mention it then as I thought it might be a UTI.

I then took our four year old daughter (Ada) for lunch followed by a trip to the cinema. I felt absolutely fine. After coming out of the cinema we both went to the toilet and to my shock my urine was a deep red wine colour. Knowing so well how Andy’s symptoms started, I was very worried and knew I needed to get to a hospital ASAP. I called my Dad on the walk back to the car and asked him to come and look after Ada whilst I drove myself to A&E.

For the first few hours waiting in A&E I felt largely fine and was happy to sit reading a book (there was a long wait time of around 7 hours). Within a few hours I started to feel very unwell and asked my Dad to come and wait with me and my Mum took over looking after Ada. Once my Dad arrived I started to deteriorate. The bleeding was getting much worse and was now clotting. This meant I was unable to pass any urine and it was becoming increasingly uncomfortable. Combined with the blood loss I was starting to feel very weak and felt unable to sit in the waiting room any longer. I eventually managed to pass some urine along with a lot of clots, which relieved some of the discomfort.

The A&E staff managed to find me a bed to wait in and this was just in time as my pain levels intensified. I can’t describe the excruciating pain that followed (far worse than childbirth!) and the doctors gave me several pain relief tablets which I immediately vomited back up. Eventually I was given oral morphine and this took the edge off. After being seen by a doctor, the suspicion was kidney stones but I have to say that I knew in my heart of hearts it would be something worse.

I was sent for a CT scan at around 1am and the scan confirmed a lesion on my left kidney – I was told I would need urgent investigations that week. I went straight onto autopilot and emailed Andy’s oncologist to tell her what was going on, as I am lucky enough to have private healthcare and knew I would transfer my care over to speed things up. I was eventually discharged at 3am but wound up back in A&E by 11am with increased bleeding and vomiting and I was admitted for a few days. My bloods showed an infection and I was started on antibiotics which stopped the bleeding and vomiting. I immediately started feeling much better and less weak.

During my in-patient stay, Andy’s oncologist managed to get her hands on my NHS scans (I’d had another CT scan by this point, with contrast dye) and briefed a urological surgeon. I spoke to my insurance company and the day after being discharged I saw the surgeon and we made arrangements to remove my kidney the following week. I was still in autopilot mode and my only thoughts were that of Ada and wanting to give myself the best possible chance so that she did not lose another parent. In his final hours I had promised Andy I would look after her and do the best by her and acting quickly was the best way I could do this at the time.

From walking into A&E to having my kidney removed it was 11 days, and that was with Easter weekend in between too. Further scans in this time showed no evidence of spread beyond the kidney but the decision was made to remove a few lymph nodes at the time of surgery to test these to confirm. I had a robotic radical nephrectomy on 4th April, which removed the 8cm tumour and kidney. This took place in the same hospital Andy had passed away in, only 7 weeks earlier. It was quite triggering going back to the hospital initially, but the familiar faces of the staff brought me lots of comfort, and I also felt closer to Andy knowing that this was where he’d taken his final breath.

The surgery went well and I spent two nights in hospital before being discharged. Recovery at home took some time but I felt reassured as I saw improvements every day. I was very grateful to have parents, in-laws and friends on a rota staying with us for the first couple of weeks to help out with the home and Ada. It was a difficult time emotionally, as the one person I wanted to talk to about all of it, (and that would truly understand) was Andy. I like to think that it was him looking out for me that caused the bleeding and got me to the hospital when I did – the timing feels too much of a coincidence since the surgeon thought the tumour had been there for a few years.

Pathology came back and confirmed stage 2, grade 2 kidney cancer which thankfully meant that this was contained within the kidney. The lymph nodes were clear of disease and there were clear margins. We all breathed a sigh of relief. Initially I’ll have 6 monthly scans to check for recurrence and we’ll go from there.

I am extremely grateful to Andy’s oncologist for making the arrangements behind the scenes, and knowing the right people to talk to has been one of the silver linings in what has been quite an ordeal. The other silver lining has been my existing links with everyone at Action Kidney Cancer. I didn’t think I would need to call on such practical support so soon after losing Andy, but I am grateful for the huge virtual support group that they have been.

I am now trying to look forward as best as I can after the whirlwind that has been 2024. Now I am coming down from survival mode, the grief is setting back in and I am trying to process everything and let the emotions come.  I am looking forward to the summer and having a couple of holidays and giving Ada some happy memories. She has been a real star in the darkness this year and I just want to give her some joy.

Often, surgery is curative for this type of cancer and I am hoping that is the case for me. I’ll always get the ‘scanxiety’ every time my scan rolls around but I am trying to focus on living in the present. If there is anything this year has taught me it’s that we don’t know what is around the corner, and so I am determined to make the most of life and live it for Andy too.