Covington resident Doug Smith, shown here with grandsons Andrew Cumbie, 3, and Matthew Cumbie, 11 months, is a kidney cancer survivor.
Doug Smith holds his 11-month old grandson Matthew Cumbie on his hip and watches his 3-year-old grandson Andrew Cumbie scramble on the monkey bars at Denny Dobbs Park in Newton County.
Six months ago, doctors diagnosed the 61-year-old with kidney cancer. Today, Smith is grateful to be alive.
"That's what I'm living for," said Smith as he nods to Andrew and tickles Matthew.
March is Kidney Cancer Awareness month and Smith said he hopes that by sharing his story others will learn more about the disease.
Doctors discovered Smith's cancer during treatment for a sinus condition affecting his sense of smell. A pre-op scan of his chest before sinus surgery revealed a suspicious area on his left kidney. Another scan of his abdomen confirmed a mass on the kidney.
Doctors removed Smith's kidney in October at Rockdale Medical Center. It turned out that he had three masses on the organ, one a stage three tumor and the others each stage two.
"To think if a bad taste and smell of everything hadn't started a year ago, I would never have known about the cancer," Smith said. "The Lord works in mysterious ways."
Dr. Bert Chen of Georgia Urology, which has locations in Conyers and Covington, said kidney cancer can be asymptomatic, though blood in the urine, flank pain or flank mass could point to the disease.
The incidence rate of kidney cancer is rising, he said, and of the 64,770 Americans diagnosed, 13,570 will die of the disease in 2012.
Survival rates vary with the stage and grade of the cancer, said Chen, Smith's doctor.
"Renal cancers that are confined to the kidney treated surgically have very good survival rates," said Chen, in a an email interview.
"However, even after surgical treatment, patients are followed under a surveillance protocol as there is the risk of recurrence."
Chen said most renal cancers are "sporadic" and some can be hereditary. The disease has also been linked to smoking and obesity.
"I would recommend routine physical examinations with a primary care physician, including a urinalysis. Blood in the urine can be a sign of urologic disease, including but not limited to renal cancer," Chen said.
In November, doctors performed a scan of Smith's brain as a precautionary measure, and he underwent a post-op scan of his abdomen in December.
"The results were NED -- no evidence of disease. I think that's the great word, the great praise that all cancer survivors want to hear," Smith said.Smith said with his type of cancer, multifocal chromophobe renal cell carcinoma, there is a 25 percent chance of recurrence. He finds comfort in the support he gets from his family, friends and online at the Cancer Survivors Network (www.csn.cancer.org).
"The worst part is the waiting and the waiting," Smith said. "Even though I proclaim to be a cancer survivor now, there will always be the worry in the back of your mind."
Smith recovered well from the surgery. Doctors will monitor cysts they found on his other kidney.
A retired facility manager for the Georgia State Capitol, the Georgia Governor's Mansion and other state buildings, Smith now works part-time at a veterinarian's office.
Recently, he took his wife, daughters, grandchildren and other family members to Disney World, a tiring but enjoyable experience.
"You try to be strong for everybody and not think about it much," said Smith of the cancer. "But I praise God I've made it this far and I'm able to spend time with my grandkids and extended family. Every day is a blessing."