Annie Dunn: Coping With Kidney Cancer During the COVID-19 Pandemic

“Dr. Kutikov assured me that the surgery was going to be fine, and afterward, the care I received was wonderful. I really felt like I was the only patient in the hospital.”
‐Annie Dunn

I have always enjoyed being social and keeping busy with a handful of hobbies. At 68, I spent most of my time cycling with my husband Tom, going on walks, reading whatever I could find, and socializing with friends. Up until recently, those things had always been a regular part of my life. However, after being diagnosed with kidney cancer amid the COVID-19 pandemic, those activities had to take a back seat.

A Familiar Diagnosis

I was no stranger to a cancer diagnosis. In September of 2018, I was diagnosed with renal cell carcinoma (a type of kidney cancer) and underwent a nephrectomy to remove my left kidney at my local hospital.

I was hoping that would be the end of my cancer journey, but in February 2020, a PET scan showed a 14-millimeter lesion on my left adrenal gland. I immediately began thinking the worst, and I became concerned about where else the cancer may have spread. It was then that my urologist recommended I go to Fox Chase Cancer Center.

My first appointment at Fox Chase was in February 2020 with Dr. Alexander Kutikov, a urologic oncologist. I was understandably nervous, but every step of the way, the people at Fox Chase made me feel comfortable. From the doctors and nurses to the individuals working in reception, everyone I encountered at Fox Chase was calm and very reassuring.

At the appointment, Dr. Kutikov really put me at ease. It was obvious that he was knowledgeable and very experienced, which is exactly what you need when dealing with a cancer diagnosis. He took the time to explain the treatment plan clearly and scheduled me for a laparoscopic surgery to have the lesion removed.

COVID-19 and Cancer Treatment

One of the most difficult parts of my cancer journey came as I approached my surgery date in April of 2020. As the COVID-19 pandemic began to reach its peak, guests were no longer allowed to accompany patients inside Fox Chase. When I went in for surgery, my husband had to leave me at the door, and we both cried.

It was very difficult. There was heaviness, sadness, and fear because I was all alone, and there was also a lack of a second voice and a second pair of ears. I kept thinking to myself: “What if I need him?” He’s always been so supportive and helpful with anything I’ve had to go through, and it was discouraging to be all by myself.

The staff at Fox Chase really helped with that sadness, though. The nursing team was absolutely wonderful, and everyone was kind and compassionate. Dr. Kutikov assured me that the surgery was going to go fine, and afterward, the care I received was wonderful. I really felt like I was the only patient in the hospital.

Thankfully, the procedure didn’t require a lengthy stay, and I was discharged the following day.

Getting Back to Normal

Although my surgery was a part of the process that I had to go through alone, I was lucky to have a really great network of family and friends I could talk to throughout my journey. I find that getting things out of my head really helps ease my anxiety. During my treatment and recovery, I also wholeheartedly embraced prayer and meditation.

Since my diagnosis, I haven’t been able to get on my bicycle and ride like I normally do, but I’ve turned it into a stationary bike and can use it for up to an hour.

I couldn’t be happier with the care I received as a patient at Fox Chase. I’ve been going for scans every three months, and they have been going well so far. I am happy that I didn’t require any chemotherapy or radiation, and I’m looking forward to having more clear scans in the future.

Learn more about the diagnosis and treatment of kidney cancer at Fox Chase Cancer Center