Denise Coldwater - Patient Story

“Dr. Uzzo at Fox Chase was my only hope to save my kidney."
‐Denise Coldwater
Denise and her husband took this photo to mark the moment Dr. Uzzo discharged her from Fox Chase.
Denise and her husband took this photo to mark the moment Dr. Uzzo discharged her from Fox Chase.

Based on my history with cancer, I often feel like the luckiest person on earth. In 1999, at the age of 45, I was diagnosed with kidney cancer. At the time, my only choice was a total nephrectomy (removal of the kidney). However, after treatment, I was able to resume my life in Enid, OK, raising three sons, teaching school, and running a cattle ranch with my husband, Mike. For 15 years, I shared in my parents’ last years and the beginning years of my four grandchildren. I retired from my position as a college researcher and dean and found a very fulfilling life helping others through a second career in counseling. I was able to live my life.

In March 2014, I had just turned 60. I had left my career in education and counseling to help with my parents and grandchildren. My energy was waning and I wasn’t at the top of my game 24/7 because I didn’t feel well every day. After some trips to the doctor due to these symptoms, I was diagnosed with kidney stones. Because of my previous bout with kidney cancer, I was concerned, but my fear increased immensely when my kidney shut down. A series of tests, including a sonogram, MRI, and needle biopsy, revealed kidney cancer in my remaining kidney.

Surgery was not an option for me and I was never a candidate for a kidney transplant because I’m an only child—and the best donors are siblings. I looked to my doctors for advice. One of my doctors had recently read about Robert G. Uzzo, MD, FACS, at Fox Chase Cancer Center, one of the country’s best-known urologic oncology surgeons. He is skilled at organ preservation surgery whenever possible, so he was the only hope to save my kidney.

After a phone consultation, I decided to make the trip to Philadelphia—1,500 miles from home—to meet Dr. Uzzo in mid-July 2014. Two of my sons managed the ranch while we were in Philadelphia. Everyone we spoke to at Fox Chase was very supportive and accommodating. They even arranged lodging for us. As soon as we met Dr. Uzzo, we felt completely confident in his ability to perform surgery.

Everything seemed to happen so quickly. On July 14, 2014, I underwent a partial nephrectomy—an intricate surgery to remove the cancer while preserving the function of the kidney. During the surgery, Dr. Uzzo discovered a tumorous clot in my renal vein. He was able to clear the vein and successfully save my kidney. Dr. Uzzo treated me like I was a member of his own family and made choices as if I were family. His entire team is professional and compassionate. Everyone at Fox Chase is incredibly responsive—especially the nurses. After several days in the hospital, I moved into the housing arranged by Fox Chase before I was medically released to return to Oklahoma.

Dr. Uzzo said his goal was for me to return home with a functioning kidney cancer-free and off dialysis, and he achieved that goal. A few days after surgery, my kidney function returned to normal. The ride home was challenging, but we took our time and covered about 500 miles per day. By the third day, I was thrilled to be home. I recovered well and eventually returned to my part-time job at a law firm, along with running the ranch.

Fox Chase granted me a future that was virtually nonexistent in Oklahoma. In Oklahoma, I was offered a life totally reliant on dialysis and no kidney whatsoever, and I probably was looking at a shorter life span. Instead of that life, Fox Chase gave me a cancer-free partial kidney that functions at a level of 58 percent of the function of two kidneys. I have maintained quarterly visits with local medical experts who stay in close contact with Dr. Uzzo, who never left me hanging, and I have had health-enhancing treatments in Wichita, KS, to strengthen my immunity. Because of my highly functioning kidney, my outdoor life and family activities continue—only now, I have an enhanced and even higher level of appreciation and love.

My family sacrificed greatly for me after I was diagnosed. My husband drove me to Philadelphia and back to Oklahoma and then to Dallas and back. Two sons kept the ranch going in Enid while we were gone, and my other son traveled from Vidor, TX, to Philadelphia to offer support during the surgery week. I wasn’t going to just lie around and do nothing but make appearances for checkups. Because of my research background, I utilized my skills and found out everything I could about my condition and possible healthy approaches to a successful outcome. Based on this research, I changed my bad eating habits and added very designated supplements, and I successfully continue that to this day.

After several years of no specific cancer-directed treatment, I am thrilled to say that my current diagnosis is very good with no signs of cancer showing up on any scans or tests. My life is great since the surgery. I now have the opportunity to look deeply into everything around me and absorb it at my own rate.

When diagnosed with cancer, there is no room for feeling sorry for yourself or for becoming helpless. It is time to grow a backbone, time to evaluate where you came from, and time to decide where you’re going and how you will contribute to others’ lives along the way. I advise others to take their condition by the horns and meet it head-on.