Road to a healthy life
Charmaine Smith

My name is Charmaine Smith, I am 53 years old, and I live in Windhoek. This is my story:

Early November 2020 I started experiencing tremendous pain in my stomach area. I thought it was due to my stomach ulcer. I went to see my doctor, and he prescribed me medication for my stomach ulcer. Unfortunately, the medicine did not help. The pain was excruciating. I lived off painkillers…which also only helped a little bit. The pain never went away. By the week of the 16th, I could hardly eat anything, because of the pain. I forced myself to eat a little bit, so that I can take the painkillers.

On Sunday evening, 29 November 2020, I could not stand the pain any longer. I booked myself into the Mediclinic Hospital. They put me on a drip that contained strong painkillers and medicine. When the drip finished running through, the doctor on duty asked me if the pain was gone. I told him that it felt slightly better, but that the pain was still there. He told me that this was no stomach ulcer. He phoned Dr Perry Eagles, who suggested I should immediately be admitted to Lady Pohamba Hospital.

On the morning of 30 November 2020, I went for an X-ray, an Ultrasound, and a CT Scan. Dr Eagles came to see me that evening, with the results. He told me he has a double whammy for me. He said that it was not my stomach ulcer that was the problem, or that caused the pain. The pain came from my Pancreas. Imbedded, inside my pancreas, was a large stone. The stone caused Pancreatitis. The part of my Pancreas, where the stone was imbedded, became necrotic. The other bad news he gave me, was that they discovered a growth/tumor on my left kidney.
He told me that he needs to remove part of my pancreas, to get rid of the stone, and the damaged tissue. And that there is great possibility that they will have to remove my left kidney, if it is cancer. I was absolutely devastated! I did not expect this!

Urologist, Dr Golda Stellmacher was assigned to treat my kidney issues. She and a few oncologists monitored the growth on my kidney. No biopsy could be done, for the fear of spreading the cancer.

On Monday, 7 December 2020, at 17h00, Dr Eagles performed the Pancreatectomy and Splenectomy at Lady Pohamba Hospital. He removed 60% of my Pancreas, and my whole Spleen.
This was Dr Eagle’s first operation of such sort. It was a big, risky and long operation. I was worried, and very scared. But he did an excellent job. I am so thankful that he is was my surgeon.
It was a very painful operation. I had to recover fast and get fit for my next big operation. Dr Eagles warned me to take care of what I eat. The Pancreas is a vital part of the digestive system and a critical controller of blood sugar levels. If I don’t eat healthy, I might develop Diabetes. I immediately changed my eating habits. I stopped my sugar intake, and I reduced my fat intake. I only took in healthy fats. I lost quite a lot of weight by cutting out the sugar and eating healthy fats. On Monday morning, 31 January 2021, Dr Stellmacher phoned me and told me that she and the team of Oncologists decided that the kidney must be removed. The growth has changed from size and form, and they highly suspect that it is Kidney Cancer. Although I prepared myself for the worst, I was again devastated. The surgery was scheduled for 9 February 2021. Two months after my Pancreas / Spleen Operation.

On Wednesday, 9 February 2021, Dr Stellmacher performed the Radical Nephrectomy at the Roman Catholic Hospital. Yet again it was a big, long and risky operation. This operation was even more painful than the Pancreas operation. She removed my whole left kidney, and one of my ribs (to have easier access to my kidney whilst operating). On Friday, 11 February 2021, Dr Stellmacher woke me up in the early hours of the morning and told me she has the results of my kidney biopsy. Their suspicions were right. It was Kidney Cancer. Clear Cell Renal Cell Carcinoma. I felt numb. The recovery process was long and painful.

I now must go for blood work, x-rays and scans every 4 months, to make sure all is fine with my pancreas and with my kidney, and that the cancer has not spread. In September 2021 I went to see the Oncologist, Dr Eksteen at the Namibian Oncology Centre. She sent me for an DWI Whole Body MRI Scan. This scan detects cancer in your body. Thank God all was normal! I will from now on see Dr Eksteen and go for this specific scan once a year. My next appointment is in June 2022.

Tests done in September 2021 showed that I now suffer from Exocrine Pancreatic Insufficiency (EPI). Due to only having 40% of my Pancreas left, my Pancreas now do not produce enough enzymes that aid digestion. EPI can lead to poor absorption of nutrients, malnutrition, weight loss, and a shortage of vitamins, and a poor quality of life. Dr Eagles has put me on Pancreatic Enzyme Replacement Therapy (PERT). I take these prescription pills during my meals. They replace the enzymes that my Pancreas don’t make anymore.

Unfortunately, tests also showed, that my right kidney had Stage 3 Chronic Kidney Disease (CKD) with a kidney function of 53%. So, with my check-up visit to Dr Stellmacher on 24 February 2021, she advised me to make an appointment with a Dietician, so that she can prescribe me a Renal Eating Plan, specially designed for my kidney. She suggested seeing registered Dietitian, Annalien Turner. I was lucky enough to get an appointment with Annalien the next day, 25 February 2021. Annalien worked out a Renal- and Weight Loss Diet for me, that supports my kidney and pancreas. I followed this diet very strictly. By November 2021 I have lost most of my excess weight, and my kidney function has gone up from 53% to 56%, and from 56% to 65%, and now recently from 65% to 68%. I now suffer from Stage 2 Chronic Kidney Disease. I currently am on a Maintenance Eating Plan, that Annelien has worked out for me. I can really advise everybody, who suffers from health problems like me, to see a Dietician. A diet worked out to suit and assist with your health problems can help so much. Annalien has also advised me to make an appointment with a Nephrologist (Kidney Specialist). She suggested Dr Glenda Kalunga.

I now see Dr Kalunga regularly as well. She sends me for tests and monitors my kidney. A recent x-ray and scan on 3 February 2022 showed a mild prominence of the right pulmonary artery,
and a mild enlargement of the left side of the heart. We are busy dealing with this issue. I am trying to stay positive. I am so thankful to have a strong medical team behind me. I am also very blessed to have a loving and caring family and friends behind me. They have helped me so much through all this trauma. But most of all, I give credit to God. He has heard and answered every single prayer, he protected me, and he helped me through all of this. I am so blessed! I also believe that God has deliberately brought on the Pancreatitis, so that the kidney cancer could be detected. I don’t even want to think about how bad this could have ended, have I not gotten Pancreatitis. God gave me a 2nd chance, and for that I will be forever grateful to him! I praise Him.

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