NORTH OAKS, Minn. - Thirty-five-year-old Mark Stankey is celebrating a miracle never thought possible just a few years ago after surviving a rare type of kidney cancer, possibly shared by only a few other adults in the world. His cancer remission after treatment at Mayo Clinic in Rochester was already an answered prayer, but this week, he became a father.
"It's very rare you get another chance. I am passing on life which is such a profound thought. Here I never thought I had that opportunity," said Stankey.
Stankey and wife Lindy welcomed their son Walter Andrew Stankey on August 7 at 5 pounds, 9 ounces. Their blessing came five years after Stankey had an accident that alerted him to his condition.
"I immediately knew something was wrong," said Stankey, recalling a fall off a retaining wall outdoors in November of 2006. "My left kidney exploded. It just ruptured."
The downward spiral that followed - two years of extreme pain and surgery - eventually led him to a doctor at the Mayo Clinic.
"He said, who would have ever guessed it was malignant? I was floored. Nobody ever thinks they are going to get cancer, especially at that age, then our world flipped completely upside down," said Stankey.
Doctors diagnosed a Wilms tumor - a type of kidney cancer usually found in children. The Mayo Clinic says Wilms is a rare kidney disease typically found in children ages 3-4 years old. The disease is much rarer after age 5. Stankey learned only a few adults around the world shared his condition.
"The research I did, I could only find one person at Johns Hopkins, a woman who is 27 years old," he said.
Treatment for his Stage 3 cancer required immediate removal of his kidney along with intense radiation and chemotherapy. Stankey was treated in the pediatric oncology unit where doctors are most familiar with the disease. There, Stankey said his doctors also cautioned him about another devastating outcome.
"We are 99.9% certain you will be sterile when we are done," he said. The couple always wanted a family, since they started dating long ago as teenagers.
"Lindy kept me going a lot, a lot of times, we would pray a lot about it, faith kept us strong, along with family and friends," said Stankey.
Over the course of a year, the illness from treatment caused him to lose 60 pounds, along with the feeling in his arms and legs as a side effect. But slowly, life slowly overshadowed death when he emerged from treatment without cancer in November of 2011.
Less than a year later, their Mayo miracle born after doctors urged Stankey to bank his sperm for in-vitro fertilization.
"We were so thrilled I was still alive, if we could have a child, that's a bonus. It just so happened we got pregnant on first try and it is such a joy. I can't tell you, what a swing of emotions from being on death's door a couple years ago," he said.
Perhaps now, what's even rarer is Stankey's firm grasp of hope, all along conceiving his new beginning.
Stankey says his doctors think it's possible Wilms disease remained dormant inside him since birth, and says he has learned it's highly unlikely he's passed it on to his son.
Read more about a Wilms Tumor here on Mayo Clinic's website.
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