This article is the first in a series that showcases how these icons have courageously faced the challenges of kidney disease while pursuing their passions. Their jour...
Raúl de Molina made a name for himself as a freelance photo reporter in Miami during the 80s. He covered everything from police corruption to sporting events and celebrity sightings. Fate stepped in during the late 90s when TV producers were searching for their next big star. They found Raúl and he, alongside model Lili Estefan, became the face of El Gordo y la Flaca, a Spanish-language talk show. Twenty-five years and two Emmy® awards later, they are still at the forefront of pop culture news and entertainment.
Today, Raúl de Molina is more than a TV personality–he’s a kidney cancer survivor raising kidney health awareness within the Hispanic/Latino community.
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Battling kidney cancer
In 2004, Raúl developed lower back pain. He assumed the pain would resolve itself, but it was still there three weeks later–and getting worse. He made a doctor's appointment to find out why.
"I went to a kidney doctor for blood tests but they didn't find anything wrong. They suggested I was drinking too much caffeine. I don't drink coffee but I do drink a lot of iced tea," Raúl said. "He suggested I cut that out of my diet to see if it helped."
The diet change didn't work.
"One morning I woke up in some of the worst pain I've ever felt. I couldn't handle it anymore. I went to the emergency room where they did a CT scan. Then they did a second scan with contrast and delivered news that I never expected," said Raúl. "I had a tumor inside my right kidney the size of a head, around 15 centimeters. I thought I was going to die in that emergency room."
Raúl called his executive producers to let them know the news. He wasn't sure when, if ever, he'd be back on set.
"To make things worse, the urologist didn't know if they could perform surgery to remove the mass. They thought the tumor might be too big. I could die on the operating table because I was overweight. I was terrified," Raúl said. "The next morning, the general ER doctor gave me some hope."
This doctor was positive that the tumor could be safely removed.
"I met with a well-known doctor in Miami to see if he could help me. He looked at my charts and said he'd schedule the surgery in February. It was only November! I didn't think I could wait that long," said Raúl. "He told me not to worry about it–he was an expert and knew I would be fine until then."
And Raúl was fine! The team removed the cancer in February 2005. Since then, it has not returned or spread to other parts of his body.
Protecting his remaining kidney
Now that Raúl only has one kidney, he does his best to protect it.
"I learned that you can live with one kidney if you take care of it,” said Raúl. “I monitor my blood pressure and blood sugar because high blood pressure or diabetes could cause me to develop kidney disease. I also avoid anti-inflammatory medications like ibuprofen as they could damage my remaining kidney.”
Raúl's biggest hurdle has been obesity, another kidney disease risk factor. In 2018, he entered a rehabilitation center to lose weight and learn new eating habits.
"I've been struggling with my weight for more than forty years. Right now, I'm at the lowest weight I've ever been by following a healthy lifestyle," said Raúl. "I swim forty-five minutes every day and eat a lot of greens. It's hard to turn down sweets but I do my best! I also limit how much sodium and red meat I eat."
Partnering with NKF
The Hispanic/Latino community faces high rates of kidney failure. This isn't due to any one reason. It's a combination of medical, environmental, and social factors called social determinants of health. These factors can make it harder for people to be healthy and get necessary medical care.
Raúl is partnering with National Kidney Foundation to change this.
"1 in 3 US adults, or 33%, is at risk of kidney disease but most don't know it. If you are Hispanic, your risk may be even higher," Raúl said in a National Kidney Foundation PSA. "You can assess your risk with the NKF's Minute for Your Kidneys quiz."
Take the Minute for Your Kidneys quiz to learn your risk factors for kidney disease.
For those who already have kidney disease, Raúl recommends that you "always listen to your doctor. They know best."
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