Surviving Renal Cell Cancer: Yaffa’s Story

Yaffa with baby Nesiya

Yaffa with baby Nesiya

My name is Yaffa Grace Penski. I am 45 years old, married and have four children ages 14, 13, 10 and 8 months. I am a career coach, life coach and recruiter. And my husband and I have a small fitness studio on Mercer Island for adults and kids. I love working out with my husband, spending time with my family, hiking, beach vacations, traveling and cooking.

I found out I had cancer Aug. 13, 2013, after a trip to the ER with what I thought was horrible food poisoning. Because I had a fever and abdominal pain, they had to rule out appendicitis and did a CT scan. That’s when they found the mass on my kidney. I was shocked and absolutely terrified. Not what you are expecting to hear when you haven’t had any warning signs. The next day I was totally fine. My kidney cancer was asymptomatic and that’s why I didn’t know there was a problem.

I needed surgery to remove the tumor. This was very risky because the cancer was in my “good” kidney. My other one only functions at 18 percent. If there were complications, I didn’t have a backup.

A friend of my husband urged us to get a second opinion and one of my husband’s clients highly recommended her colleague at Virginia Mason. I did some research and found that there are only two urologists in the Seattle area who are considered experts in the type of surgery I needed. I set up appointments with both, but after my husband and I met with the Virginia Mason urologist, there was no doubt about who I wanted to be my doctor. He took so much time to explain things and we left there at ease with what was going to happen.

Cancer doesn’t just affect your body like a broken bone. It’s an illness that impacts your body, mind and spirit. I felt like my urologist and everyone at Virginia Mason understood the impact not only on me, but also my family. They treated the entire “disease” process, but ultimately the experience felt like a “wellness” process. I felt cared about and I felt my family was cared about, too.

Compared to most cancer treatments, I think mine was relatively simple. Everyone always thinks “chemo” and “radiation” when you hear the “C” word but that wasn’t my experience. After my surgery, I spent five days in the hospital and then recovered at home for about seven weeks. It was painful, but my doctor and everyone else worked hard to address and lessen my pain throughout the stages of recovery.

Getting cancer changed my life in so many ways. For one thing, it seemed to create life — literally. I have 3 children from a previous marriage, but my husband did not have any of his own. We tried for two years to get pregnant and even went through fertility treatments. We were told the likelihood of us getting pregnant was almost zero and we had come to accept that we would not have a child together.

But three months after my cancer was removed, at almost 44 years old, I was pregnant, and now have a beautiful 8-month-old gorgeous daughter. We named her Nesiya, which means miracle of God.

I quit my job that was not fulfilling and started a new career because life’s too short to do something that doesn’t make you happy. I treasure each day and each person in my life. I created a blog,, when I first got diagnosed as a way to write about the entire experience and get my feelings out and inspire others. I named it “Life with a Side of Cancer” because life is the main course highlighted by a side of cancer, which is secondary. I am completely filled up with gratitude and I know with all my being what is truly important.

Today, there is no “normal.” There is only great. I have been given a second chance to create the life I want and that is my focus. I am so very blessed to be able to make my life happen and so very grateful for all the people at Virginia Mason who took care of me. Thank you!


This story originally appeared on Meet other patients who bravely shared their stories of fighting cancer, and get the latest information on cancer treatment outcomes and wellness and support at Virginia Mason.


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