Metastatic kidney cancer patient Bill Geske: what I learned

November 9, 2015 | by Denise Heady

As a business owner and father of two, 50-year-old Bill Geske was satisfied with his personal and professional life. His general engineering business was thriving with the help of his son and wife, and he had just sent his daughter off to college.

But then, during a trip with Diane, his wife of 32 years, to visit their daughter, Bill began having stomach pains and noticed blood in his urine.

Diane immediately took him to the emergency room. The doctor referred Bill to a urologist, who found a tumor in his right kidney and unusual spots in his lungs. Although a biopsy showed cancer cells were present in Bill’s kidney, the spots in his lungs were dismissed.

The Geskes opted for surgery to remove Bill’s kidney, and thought that was the end of it.

“We thought he was going to be fine after the kidney was removed,” Diane said.

The couple went back to managing their business until, a few months later, Bill began to have a piercing pain in the left side of his body. This time the doctor concluded that the kidney cancer wasn’t gone, but in fact had begun to spread to other parts of his body.

“We were blindsided,” Diane said. “And you can’t help but think the worst.”

The prognosis was not good. Due to the advancement of the disease, doctors estimated Bill’s survival to be no more than two years.

Diane’s search for a second opinion led her to City of Hope. There, the couple met with Sumanta K. Pal, M.D., co-director of the Kidney Cancer Program and assistant clinical professor in the Department of Medical Oncology & Therapeutics Research.

“From the moment we met Dr. Pal, he made us feel so at ease and he immediately became our friend,” Diane said.

Pal, who is working aggressively to investigate new treatments for rare types of kidney cancer, started Bill on a series of innovative clinical trials. In some cases, these clinical trials gave Bill access to drugs years before their approval by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

“It’s important to realize that a patient may be a candidate for multiple studies during their course of treatment,” Pal said. “My philosophy is that these studies may save standard FDA approved agents for a later point in treatment.”

Through a combination of Bill’s positive attitude and his willingness to explore new treatments, Pal has been able to extend Bill’s life far beyond the two-year mark.

“Of course I’m scared,” Bill said. “But I’m hoping the drugs are going to do their jobs and if not, I know Dr. Pal will have another plan.”

Nearly six years after Bill's initial diagnosis, Pal’s treatment plan has allowed him to continue to manage his business with his son, and see his daughter graduate college and get married. Now, he is awaiting the arrival of his first grandchild in December.

“Monty is one in a million,” Bill said, referring to Pal.” “We are so lucky we found him. I wouldn’t be here without him.”

Here, the Geskes share some of the wisdom they’ve gained during Bill’s treatment journey, along with practical tips for patients who have been newly diagnosed.

Don’t take everyone's advice.

When someone gets sick, people want to help. And sometimes that help comes in the form of advice about treatment options. Accept the advice graciously – and with a grain of salt, Diane said.

“I can’t tell you how many people have given us treatment advice. Everything from articles on herbal medicine to doctors in Mexico to certain water to drink, I can go on and on,” she said. “I was always kind to everyone, but what worked for one person may not work for everyone. No two cancer patients are the same, even if they have the same kind of cancer.”

Take a vacation.

Being told you have cancer is scary. And once you hear that word, you immediately want to jump into treatment. If you can, take a vacation before you start treatment, Diane said. “You don’t know how long it’s going to be until you get another chance to take a break from your treatment schedule.”  

Get out of the house.

“It can be easy to feel sorry for yourself when you have cancer,” Bill said. “But whatever you do, don’t waste your time dwelling on it. I kept busy and still worked throughout my treatment. There were days I couldn’t work very long, but I still made myself get up and get out of house. I needed that stability.”  

Always make sure someone always goes with the patient to an appointment.

Sometimes patients don't always hear the doctor correctly, or remember everything discussed during an appointment.  Having a second pair of ears will help ensure you don’t forget important details about your treatment, Diane said.  

Always go to appointments armed with snacks.

Coming in for appointments often means spending a large chunk of the day in the hospital. “Even though City of Hope does have good food, Bill didn't like to eat in the infusion area,” Diane said.  “I would make sure to have snacks handy and give him food throughout the day.”

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Learn more about our kidney cancer research and treatment and our unique patient experience. If you have been diagnosed with kidney cancer or are looking for a second opinion consultation about your treatment, request a new patient appointment online or call 800-826-HOPE (4673). Please visit Making Your First Appointment for more information.

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