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Maggie Klein: A Best Case Scenario for Kidney Cancer

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“The anesthesiologist came in to reassure me, and he was a very positive person, very upbeat. And the nursing staff was wonderful; they took great care of me.”

— Maggie Klein

The fact that we caught my kidney cancer so early is amazing. It was the day before my regular medical exam in 2021, and I was going through some old medical records. I just happened to have them with me because I had changed doctors.

I found a chest X-ray from 2014, and at the bottom of the page, it said that I had a growth on my spleen. That was the first I’d heard anything about that, because nobody ever said anything to me about it. So I took it to my medical exam the next day.

The doctor said it was probably nothing. But since it was an X-ray, she said it was hard to know if the mass was on my spleen or some other organ. “Maybe we should just scan you,” she said. They did an ultrasound, and a few days later she called me. “There’s an approximately four-centimeter tumor on your kidney, and it’s probably malignant, but we would need to do an MRI to confirm that,” she told me.

I looked online and found Dr. David Chen, a surgical oncologist and urologic oncologist at Fox Chase Cancer Center. I looked up his reviews and he had five stars. So I called and requested to be seen as soon as possible. My cousin’s husband had passed away from kidney cancer, so I knew it could be bad.

Not Feeling So Alone

We live more than an hour outside Philadelphia, so I had a virtual visit with Dr. Chen—technology is great that way! He told me he would do the surgery laparoscopically and robotically

I had a lot of preop tests. One was a specialized kidney scan that they do instead of a biopsy. I didn’t like that one, because the tube was claustrophobic and I get a little panicky. Then I went in for surgery on June 28, just over a month after that first doctor’s appointment.

My husband drove me to Fox Chase. I was quite nervous, but when you get there, you see that you’re just one among many people who have a cancer diagnosis. You’re thinking, “I have cancer, and all these people do too.”

Dr. Chen came and talked to us, so my husband got to meet him. Then I told my husband to drive home. I knew it was going to be a long day and I didn’t want him to have to wait. The anesthesiologist came in to reassure me, and he was a very positive person, very upbeat. And the nursing staff was wonderful; they took great care of me.

I remember they wheeled me into the operating room, and the next thing I knew I was back in my room and it was 10 o’clock at night. That was my first realization that my surgery was over—I didn’t remember a thing.

Recovering from Surgery

I had a partial nephrectomy, which is where they remove the tumor and part of the kidney. They only took about 15%. That was good, because I happen to have stage III kidney disease, and I really didn’t want to lose more of my kidneys than I had to if they’re already not functioning at 100%.

I didn’t have a lot of pain, because the incisions were small due to the surgery being done laparoscopically, where the surgeon just makes a few small incisions instead of one larger one. The most discomfort I had was from the gas they pump into your abdomen for the surgery. It doesn’t escape in the normal way, but dissipates over time. Finding a comfortable position to sleep was difficult for a few days. I started to feel better after a week or two.

After the surgery, Dr. Chen told me that everything looked very clean, with clear margins. The pathology report came back maybe a week after that, and it had the cell type and the histologic report. The final diagnosis was renal clear cell carcinoma.

All Clear

I just had my six-month checkup. Kidney cancer is scary because it can grow for a long time and you don’t feel anything. So even though Dr. Chen reassured me that mine was the best-case scenario and they got it all, I was nervous.

They uploaded the follow-up scan to my patient portal. Whether the news is good or bad, it’s right there. “I’m kind of afraid to look at it,” I told my sister. “Well, don’t,” she said. But of course I did. So I read it, and it said “No metastatic disease in chest, abdomen, or pelvis.” I just started to cry. It was just this sense of relief that came over me. I was so grateful.

We have six grandchildren, and I like to keep my schedule open to spend time with them and our daughters, who all live close by. We’re very grateful to be able to go to all the swim meets and baseball games and school plays. I’m also a bit of a crazy cat lady! I have four cats, and we do cat rescue, trap, and neuter. We like to give back. We’ve driven for Meals on Wheels, and I drive around an older lady who is also a cancer survivor.

When I think about it, it truly was a miracle that we found the cancer when we did. It could have been growing for a long time, so if I hadn’t happened to look at that file from 2014, who knows what would have happened. So I’m just thankful. Also it’s a reminder that people really have to be an advocate for their own medical care. It’s so important. Talk to your doctor. Ask the questions.

Learn more about treatment for kidney cancer at Fox Chase Cancer Center.

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