Elycia Lerman - Patient Story

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"I found Dr. Uzzo so approachable and so nice to deal with."

— Elycia Lerman, Kidney Patient

Before cancer entered my life, I was working full-time as a director in supply chain, a high-pressure job with international traveling requirements. I’m an industrial engineer by training and worked for 33 years in the health and beauty industry, with the last 25 years in the pharmaceutical industry for Johnson & Johnson. My wife of 22 years and I had a daughter who was eight at the time and a foster son who was 21 and had just been diagnosed with refractory epilepsy.

I went to see my general practitioner because of debilitating back pain and sciatica. After eight months of physical therapy, an MRI finally revealed the cause of my pain. One tumor was pressing on my sacrum and another tumor (10 cm) was sitting on my left kidney. The sacral biopsy confirmed the diagnosis of clear cell renal carcinoma. The first surgeon I met with after my diagnosis of stage 4 renal cancer told me that surgery was impossible. It was November 2008, and he basically said my cancer was a death sentence. I was 48.

I got second opinions at a large cancer hospital in New York and at Fox Chase Cancer Center, where I met Robert G. Uzzo, MD, FACS, chair of the department of surgery and a urologic surgeon who is internationally recognized for surgical management of tumors of the kidney and other types of urologic cancer.   

Dr. Uzzo said he could absolutely do surgery. I was a healthy 48-year-old who didn’t smoke and wasn’t obese. He said I was a good candidate. Before the surgery could be scheduled, Dr. Uzzo recommended a course of radiation therapy to relieve the pressure on my nerve. Because I live in New Jersey more than an hour from Fox Chase, I opted to have radiation closer to home.

I underwent 24 courses of radiation targeted to my sacrum, which worked almost immediately and gave me much-needed relief from pain. I went on two weeks of chemotherapy concurrent with the radiation but needed to stop, as my platelets were tanking and I was feeling very nauseated. I had minimal to no reactions to the radiation treatment, and I learned to meditate while on the table, or maybe it was prayer . . . or both. Prior to surgery, I participated in a clinical trial for a nuclear imaging agent that targets clear cell renal carcinoma.

All I can say is we are so lucky to have found Dr. Uzzo. He was wonderful from the first meeting, very mellow and calming. He drew pictures to show us exactly what was going on and explained everything. I found Dr. Uzzo so approachable and so nice to deal with.

In January 2009, he led the Fox Chase team that performed the complex laparoscopic surgery, which included removing my kidney and adrenal gland. Dr. Uzzo had several specialists on the team, as the tumor had encroached into my pancreas, spleen, adrenal gland, and kidney. The surgery was successful, and I was admitted to the hospital for four days.

The Fox Chase staff was just great, really super. During radiation, I took short-term disability leave and stayed out for several months after surgery. Luckily, my course of treatment was monthly Zometa shots, no chemotherapy, and a wait and see. I began physical therapy after recovering from surgery. I was essentially symptom-free for more than five years until I experienced a recurrence in late 2014.

I had started experiencing symptoms in my right leg again in 2013, with neuropathy of the foot and sciatic pain. It took several months for confirmation that the tumor was growing again. We did a second round of radiation, this time proton radiation, which is more focused. I had some burn marks from this course, and I went out on short-term disability once again. Scans revealed a new one-centimeter tumor on my right kidney. So, after radiation, I went in for a partial nephrectomy on the right side. My miracle surgeon Dr. Uzzo did another excellent surgery, and after several months, I went back to work. However, the tumor in the sacrum remained, and I experienced pain and discomfort, making sitting for any length of time, especially answering email or doing other work where the body tenses, very difficult. At the end of 2015, I went out on disability again, for the last time. I wanted to focus 100 percent on healing.

At this time, my oncologist recommended treatment with Votrient, an oral chemotherapy agent. So, I started with a quarter of the dose. I’m maintaining this treatment, with some breaks in between to allow my body to re-regulate, as the Votrient racks up the blood pressure. My pain and discomfort are manageable. I go to yoga three to five times per week, which keeps me limber in body and mind. At the beginning of treatment, I was very out of sorts, and that’s when I began working with my wonderful ayurvedic consultant who helped to ground me and provided me with additional herbs and treatment guidelines.

Luckily, treatment didn’t create too many other hardships, as I had a job with great benefits, which provided health insurance and short- and long-term disability. My wife has her own business, so her schedule is somewhat flexible. It was a bit of a challenge with our son, whose seizure disorder was just unfolding, and we had to figure out how to manage his treatment.

I’m now focused on finding joy in life. I still live in Lambertville, NJ, and have the luxury of spending time in Flagler Beach, FL, during the winter. I try to immerse myself in healing practices, essential oils, and meditations. I read healing books like Radical Remission by Dr. Kelly Turner and work hard to keep positive healing energies in my life. I like to golf, although the clubs haven’t seen much sun in the last few years. I also like to hike, although my stamina is not what it was; it’s still invigorating to the soul to get close to nature. My parents, 85 and 82, are in Doylestown, PA. Taking care of them while they age has made us realize just how important it is to live each day to the fullest and plan for the future.

I have a wonderful support system, so for that, I’m very grateful and very fortunate. I cope as best I can, and my family and I are comforted knowing that Dr. Uzzo is on my team. It’s hard not to think about it every day, so I try to compartmentalize. I maintain a great attitude—what I call an attitude of gratitude. Right now, I believe in miracles. I’ve already had one—so why not believe in another?

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