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Mike Phillips - Patient Story

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"When my primary care doctor described Dr. Uzzo as the Michael Jordan of renal surgery, I was sold on the idea!"

— Mike Phillips, Kidney Transplant/Kidney Cancer Survivor

I had high blood pressure and declining kidney function in 2005, leading me to make an appointment with a nephrologist. The CT scan the nephrologist ordered showed that I had five lesions on my kidney, but it was unclear whether the lesions were cysts or tumors. The doctors at my local hospital said I would need to have my kidney removed and that I would probably need dialysis because my diabetes and high blood pressure had affected my renal function.

My doctor recommended that I see Dr. Robert G. Uzzo, chair of surgical oncology at Fox Chase Cancer Center. When he described Dr. Uzzo as the Michael Jordan of renal surgery, I was sold on the idea. A few weeks later I was in Dr. Uzzo’s office. He explained that there was a 90% chance that the lesions were cancerous and recommended that I undergo a partial nephrectomy to remove the cancer and save my kidney. He said I would be at risk of the cancer returning, possibly to both kidneys, and that I would need to be closely monitored.

Six years later, in 2011, the cancer returned, and this time both kidneys were affected. The tumors were aggressive, and my kidneys had nearly stopped working. Because I needed to start dialysis, Dr. Uzzo decided to remove both kidneys, and he put me on the list as a candidate for a kidney transplant. I became a viable transplant candidate a year later. He was extremely helpful in helping me find a program that would not make me wait three to five years after cancer.

I had other medical challenges during that time. There were many interventional procedures for the AV graft necessary for dialysis. Dr. Rosalia Viterbo, a urologic surgeon at Fox Chase, performed a radical robotic prostatectomy when I was diagnosed with prostate cancer. Also, I needed pancreatic surgery, and I had a left hemispheric stroke that, fortunately, had no residual deficits. I finally received a kidney transplant in 2015, and I have been doing well since that surgery.

While going through these challenges, I tried to stay positive and keep living my life, working when I could. I was grateful to be alive. I never lost hope, in part because I am an optimist and a fighter, and in large measure because of the encouragement and support I received from Dr. Uzzo and Dr. Viterbo.

When I was diagnosed with cancer I was COO of a company that had 350 home-inspection franchises in North America. Now, fully recovered, I continue to do part-time business consulting, given my 45 years of business experience, 30 years in the world of franchising, and 15 in senior care/housing. I also volunteer these days with SCORE, a national organization that assists small business start-ups and helps small businesses grow.

Since my transplant, I now have more time for travel and family. I had to sell my Harley Davidson motorcycle because the transplanted kidney is palpable, and I am determined to protect this precious gift. I replaced the Harley with a new Corvette as I am a certified ‘motor head.’

I always have known that I am a determined and tough individual. My cancers and other health challenges have required that I dig deeply into my well of resolve, and throughout these experiences I have learned to cope and even to thrive. A close friend of mine who is in the Pro Football Hall of Fame told me that I am the toughest person he has ever known. I may not be the size of an NFL lineman, but my heart and my will to live rivals anyone.

I hope to start volunteering soon at Fox Chase to provide phone counseling for patients who are dealing with cancer. My advice to others is to be the boss; it is your body, and you must be the captain of your ship. If you are not, then someone else will be. Prepare to fight like you have never done before, and have faith and confidence in your ability to deal with your challenges.

In my experience, people have more influence and control over personal outcomes than they may typically believe. So dig, dig, and dig some more. You are stronger than you think. Ask the doctor lots of questions so that you know exactly why certain treatments are being recommended. If the answers don’t make sense to you, keep probing. Most healthcare professionals appreciate patients who are fully engaged and are participants in their own care.

Every person I have encountered at Fox Chase—the doctors, other clinicians, technicians in the blood lab and diagnostic imaging—has been compassionate, caring, and committed to the mission. I strongly recommend Fox Chase to anyone who needs treatment for cancer.

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