"This wasn't the news I was hoping for."

By Leah Groth
Updated December 23, 2019

US Olympic figure skater Maia Shibutani, who underwent surgery to remove a mass on her kidney December 14, has revealed that her tumor is malignant. Shubatani, 25, shared the tragic news in an Instagram post on Friday.

“I got my pathology report back—the tumor that was successfully removed on Saturday was unfortunately malignant (cancer). (SDH)-deficient renal cell carcinoma,” the two-time Olympic bronze medalist wrote alongside a photo of a beautiful bouquet of flowers. 

“This wasn’t the news I was hoping for, but I am beyond thankful that it was detected early and that my surgery went well,” she continued, adding “no further treatment is required at this time.”

“The next steps are for me to continue focusing on recovering and healing. All of the positive thoughts and support mean so much to me. My heart is so full. Thank you ❤️,” she concluded. 

What exactly is SDH-deficient renal cell carcinoma?

According to a case study published in BMC Urology, SDH-deficient renal cell carcinoma is an extremely rare and newly identified rare subtype of renal cell carcinoma (RCC). In fact, it was first identified in 2004 and only accepted by the World Health Organization in 2016. As of November 2018 there are only 55 reported cases worldwide. 

According to the study, “there are currently no diagnostic or therapeutic guidelines in place to guide management.” However, a review published in Archives of Pathology & Laboratory Medicine maintains “SDH-deficient RCCs are uniformly low grade and have a favorable prognosis.” At long-term follow-up, the metastatic rate is only about 11 percent. 

After initially revealing she was recovering from the surgery on December 16, she gave her followers a health update the following day, after being released from the hospital. 

“I’ve had my fair share of injuries in skating and I’m used to muscle and bone stuff, but this is different,” she said in a post, alongside a photo of herself walking with her brother and skating partner, Alex Shibutani, who, along with Maia, took home the bronze medal with her in the 2018’s Winter Olympics in PyeongChang. “It was explained to me that since I am young and in good shape, my muscles and nerves are really sensitive. Walking and making even smaller body movements is currently very painful and extremely challenging.” 

“It’s been tough to not feel discouraged and weak, but focusing on gratitude has really helped,” she continued. “My parents are with me and Alex was able to support me through those difficult first steps. I’m grateful for all of the messages of encouragement – I feel very cared for and supported.”

“I’m determined to come back stronger,” the Olympian concluded the post.

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