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Patti Callahan - Patient Story

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"Our family had chosen treatment at Fox Chase because of its reputation. We knew that it was the only place to go for cancer treatment."

— Patti Callahan, Renal Cell Carcinoma Survivor

I do not consider myself one to needlessly worry or panic about things, but persistent back pain and occasional stress incontinence worried me. Although I had a bulging disc and had been pregnant twice, my family doctor thought it was wise to order a renal and pelvic ultrasound in June 2009. The ultrasound revealed a small lesion in the mid to upper section of my left kidney, and a CT scan confirmed a 2.3-centimeter mass that seemed to indicate renal cell carcinoma.

I was only 40 at the time, but I wasn’t surprised by the diagnosis given my family history. My father, who had been a heavy smoker and had worked with asbestos, died with lung cancer in 2007. My mother also had had lung cancer and been treated at Fox Chase Cancer Center. Among my five siblings, all had been diagnosed with some form of cancer except one brother. My older sister had surgery for breast cancer at age 50, my oldest brother had his prostate removed at age 52, and my middle brother had been treated at Fox Chase for lung cancer with brain metastases. In a way, it seemed to be my turn.

Patti and her daughter.Patti and her daughter.

Our family had chosen treatment at Fox Chase because of its reputation. We knew that it was the only place to go for cancer treatment, and I had already spent time there with family members who had been treated with respect and sensitivity.

I was happy that doctors found my cancer early and that it was small enough to remove. Rosalia Viterbo, MD, FACS, a surgical oncologist at Fox Chase, reviewed all my test results and recommended a partial nephrectomy to remove the cancer while salvaging the kidney and its functioning. The minimally invasive procedure would be robotically assisted and would result in less bleeding, reduced scarring, a shorter hospital stay, and faster recovery time.

Dr. Viterbo performed the surgery in August 2009, a Friday, and I went home on Sunday. After two months, I returned to my job as a neonatal intensive care nurse. I could have gone back sooner but I wanted to just relax and come to terms with my diagnosis. I had the love and support of my husband and two teenage children, my family and friends.

I was cancer-free at my check-up in August 2010, and I continued to receive follow-up care. I celebrated my five-year anniversary of being cancer-free in 2014. One of the major things I learned was not to second-guess my own instincts. You know your own body, so don’t let anything go undiagnosed. There is hope. As I tell everyone I know, if something is not right, never give up until it is.

 

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