PIKEVILLE — The cancer growing in Eugene Tyner's side ached like a blow from a sledgehammer, and when doctors inspected, they found his kidney mutated into an 11-ounce, cantaloupe-size monster.
Tyner recalls waking up, groggy from surgery, to hear a nurse explain that the organ extracted from his middle was big enough to fill a bowl.
"A bowl?" Tyner asked.
"A bowl," the nurse repeated. "Like you feed your dog in."
Cancer-free at 31, Tyner can joke about his whopper of a tumor. But jokes aren't enough. Last month, Tyner applied to Guinness World Records, hoping to win recognition for the heaviest kidney ever removed.
If he makes the book, Tyner can humiliate the disease that nearly killed him. He can gloat over victory like a fisherman holding up a prize-winning marlin, smiling for the camera.
Flip through the pages of the Guinness book, and right between the man who performed 1,940 push-ups in an hour and the man who lifted 160 pounds with his ear, is where Eugene Tyner, tumor-riddled kidney survivor, hopes to be.
"I hate cancer," he said. "It's bad in my family. My Aunt Gladys, she had to have her whole bottom end taken out."
Tyner was a prison guard until three years ago, when he first felt the pain. He lived a nice life in Wayne County, not far from Goldsboro. It's horse country there, and if anything ever bothered him, he'd saddle up his steed Daisy.
For all he knows, the tumor had been growing in his kidney from childhood, waiting for a chance to knock him over.
He figured the pain for bad food, or maybe a kidney stone, until he learned he had a softball growing where a golf ball should be.
All it took to remove the beast in Tyner's belly was a four-hour surgery and a navel-to-chest incision. He still carries a copy of his tumor's vital statistics: 332 grams, more than twice a kidney's normal weight.
"They had to move everything else out of the way," said his father, Dwight.
"The doctors were joking about calling the newborn wing," said his mother, Tammy.
But depending on how the judging goes, several ounces of flesh could separate a big kidney from a world-record kidney.
Guinness' site offers no official word on kidney girth. But type "heaviest kidney" into a Google search engine and up comes the story of three Pakistani surgeons who pulled a 1.8 kilogram organ out of Waziran Mallah in January.
Asked about this, Tyner offered, "But he was dead," and counted himself still in the running. (Mallah seems to be a woman. I can't figure out from various news reports if she's dead or alive.)
Regardless, there's another complication. The stat sheet from Tyner's doctor shows that tumor made up at least half his kidney. It's not clear whether Guinness will count all 332 grams.
But it doesn't matter to Tyner if he gains international fame for having a large nonessential organ. There's little in life that fazes him. He whipped cancer, and he wants to keep whipping it, maybe with a charity horseback ride.
When he describes his new outlook, Tyner explains that when he rides out in the country and sees a deer, he no longer looks for his gun or imagines how the animal would taste with some potatoes on the side. He just appreciates how alive it is, much like himself, one kidney short.
Whatever the Guinness folks say, it would be great if they find a page for Tyner, even if his superlative gets narrowed to heaviest kidney ever removed from a live man in North Carolina, or heaviest kidney ever to reside in a dog bowl. Cancer gave him a cantaloupe, and he spit it out laughing.
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