In early August, Cameron Mathison was on a golf course near his Los Angeles home when he received a fateful phone call just hours after an MRI.
“My doctor called me and said, ‘They found a growth on your right kidney that is consistent with renal cell carcinoma,’ ” Mathison, 50, recalls. “It was like one of those moments where you’re in a dream. I just wanted to wake up.”
The actor and Home & Family host sprang into action, opting for a partial nephrectomy, a highly specialized surgery in which the tumor and only part of the kidney are removed.
“It was really scary,” admits Mathison. “There was such a lack of control.”
Nonetheless, the procedure was the ideal choice for his situation.
“If you save part of the kidney, the function is better, and good kidney function is good for general health,” says Dr. Inderbir Gill, chair of the department of urology at USC, who performed the laparoscopic surgery using robotics.
Mathison’s form of cancer (doctors estimate the tumor could have been growing for as long as a decade) is “very treatable,” says Gill, who notes that kidney cancer affects between 60,000-70,000 people per year nationwide.
However, kidney cancer is most often asymptomatic; Mathison discovered the tumor accidentally, while dealing with health issues that had plagued him for years.
“Throughout my adult life, I’ve been in tune with my body in terms of working out and staying fit,” says the actor, who doesn’t smoke or drink alcohol. “But I started noticing my body was not functioning the way it used to. My gut issues were getting worse, as far as digestion, bloating, low energy.”
Over a period of six years, Mathison visited countless doctors and underwent dozens of tests, all to no avail, until the MRI discovered the tumor.
“The gut issues saved my life,” says Mathison, “because they’re what brought me to do the MRI.”
Now, nearly two months since his successful September 12 surgery, Mathison, who went back to work on Home & Family after two weeks, is still easing into his post-cancer life.
“My strength is so weirdly gone,” Mathison admits. “My default is to snap and go, ‘Come on!’ I have to work at being gentle on myself.”
Mathison says he’s “incredibly grateful” for the new perspective on life and on his family, including his wife of 17 years, Vanessa, and their kids Lucas, 16 and Leila, 13.
“I don’t sweat the little stuff nearly as easily,” says Mathison. “I’m more patient, and I’m more connected. The gratitude is very powerful.”
Home & Family airs weekdays at 10a/9c on Hallmark Channel.
Mathison also stars on Hallmark Channel’s The Christmas Club, premiering November 27 at 8pm/7c.