Debra Getz - Patient Story

“When I wake up each morning, I thank God first, and then I thank my doctors at Fox Chase.”

— Debra Getz, Mother, Grandmother and Metastatic Kidney Cancer Survivor

After beating inflammatory breast cancer in 1998, Debbie Getz continued diligently with follow-up oncology appointments. “Whenever something questionable showed up on an MRI or CAT Scan, I looked into it immediately,” Debbie recalls.

In March 2014, she experienced pain in her right side. “I thought it was a gall bladder attack,” admits Debbie, who quickly scheduled an appointment with her primary doctor, who sent her for imaging tests.

“I went for an ultrasound of my abdomen. The radiologist kept asking me if I was having trouble breathing. Then, the doctor left the room,” recounts Debbie, who began to worry. A few minutes later, the radiologist announced that Debbie’s primary doctor was on the telephone. “What I heard next was scary. He told me to drive to the emergency room immediately and that I would be admitted. He explained that there was a mass on my kidney and it was urgent that I go right to the hospital. I drove myself to the ER and tried to remain calm.”

An oncologist at the community hospital sat with Debbie for a frank discussion. “He told me that my cancer was serious, that cancer was found in my kidney, lymph nodes, adrenal gland and the main artery to my heart,” Debbie continues. “I needed specialized surgeons and he looked at me and said. ‘I can’t touch this case. I know a surgeon who I am going to call for you.’  I put my faith in this doctor’s hands and waited.”

Debbie was referred to Marc C. Smaldone, MD, a urologic oncologist at Fox Chase Cancer Center. “Within a short time, I heard back from Dr. Smaldone’s nurse, who got me in to see him two days later,” explains Debbie. “From the first moment I met Dr. Smaldone, I felt at ease. He was very calm and explained my diagnosis. He explained that it was serious and would require a complicated procedure, but there was still hope."

Dr. Smaldone recruited his colleague, a hepatobiliary surgeon, to manage her care because her tumor had extended into the hepatic portion of the infererior vena cava. In April 2014, Dr. Smaldone and the surgeon performed the delicate procedure at Temple University Hospital. She underwent a successful right nephrectomy, IVC thrombectomy, adrenalectomy, and retroperitoneal lymph node dissection to treat her metastatic kidney cancer.

"All three of my doctors continue to impress me"

Debbie also sees Fox Chase medical oncologist Daniel M. Geynisman, MD, to manager her care. “All three of my doctors continue to impress me. They work collaboratively and that makes me feel good. They are always saying, ‘I am going to check with this one or that one’ during my appointments.  It makes me feel safe and well cared for,” Debbie continues.

In 2016, Debbie marked two years from surgery. “My prognosis went from bleak to encouraging,” she adds. Luckily, Debbie was a candidate to enroll in a clinical trial at Fox Chase. “I am so grateful I was able to take part in cancer research,” shares Debbie. “During a follow-up appointment, spots were detected on my lung. I began an oral chemotherapy drug through a clinical trial and the spots were treated successfully. Dr. Smaldone continues to give me hope. Dr. Geynisman said my prognosis is good now. Fox Chase Cancer Center saved my life.”

Debbie has a positive outlook on life which she believes has contributed to her improving health. “I get up each morning and face the day with optimism. I am a teacher for children with special needs and they keep me busy. I try to look at the bright side of things,” admits Debbie, who became a grandmother in early 2016. “Fox Chase saved me and has allowed me to see the day that could become a grandmother. I will never be able to fully express my gratitude. Fox Chase saved my life and it can save other lives too.”

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