The next few years were characterized by determination just to go on with life as if everything was normal. But the blood pressure kept climbing higher and there was occasional discomfort sleeping on my side; seatbelts and airline seats put pressure on my enlarging kidneys. Stoicism, determination and deep currents of denial kept me going.
In the spring of 1997, Susan and the boys were off on spring break. I awoke one night with intense throbbing pain in my left flank. The only similar pain I had experienced were my kidney stones, so that was my self-diagnosis. Remembering the staggering cost of staying in a hospital for several days just to flush the stones by myself, I took a good slug of tylenol with several large glasses of water and went back to bed to just tough it out. Another bout of good thinking by the Dave-man!
The pain was somewhat better the next morning and I went on to work. My next action did show some intelligence and I called the doctor and made an appointment. An X-ray with dyes revealed some issues, and after a CT scan, I was referred to a urologist. The problem was what appeared to be a solid mass of indeterminate origin the size of a baseball on the left kidney. It could either be cancer or a blood filled cyst. (Sidenote for those who don't know: Polycystic Kidneys spontaneously develop many fluid-filled cysts. They continue to grow and squeeze the kidney like a hand squeezing a sponge. Just as a compressed sponge will not absorb water, the compressed kidney will not filter blood.) The pain was either from compression or bleeding into the cyst. He saw surgery to take a biopsy as the best option. Wow! I was not ready for this option. Cancers of the kidney are nasty. They rarely show up at an early stage becaues they are just not symptomatic!
We went for a second opinion and the doctor's opinion was a good deal less than sugar-coated. Basically he said my kidney's were trashed and I was lucky to be alive or words to that effect. We left his office devasted. My urologist said things were not that bad, because despite how distorted the kidney's appeared they were still functioning a a fairly high level. He did say there was a possiblity that the kidney might not survive the surgery and he would have to remove it, but that the remaining kidney would continue to function well. And we agreed to the surgery.