Othel Freeman - Patient Story

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"Dr. Kutikov promised to take care of me and he’s lived up to his words."

— Othel Freeman

“This is your nurse, Lisa Hicks. We have a team of doctors and nurses here to take care of you and we will do everything possible to make you better.”

Those were the words Othel Freeman heard the first time she met Dr. Kutikov at Fox Chase Cancer Center. Debilitated by severe back pain in February 2010, Othel, who was 63, had landed in the emergency department at the hospital near her home in Newark, Delaware. “I’d been having some pain, but I just thought I was tired. I was extremely active, commuting to Washington, D.C. for work, always being active. I figured it was exhaustion.Until it got so bad I couldn’t stand up. It took me 12 hours to get myself to the ER,” recalled Othel, who was working part-time as a contract officer representative for Federal government agency.

After examining her, the ER nurse believed Othel likely had a kidney infection. “At first everybody had happy smiling faces, then after the test results, the team didn’t look so happy anymore," admitted Othel. "They told me I had a large mass near my kidney. Even at that I was sure it was something that would just go away. “

Other's family in Philadelphia suggested she make an appointment at Fox Chase Cancer Center. “To be honest I was looking for a different diagnosis,” said Othel, who didn't believe it was cancer. In March 2010, a Fox Chase surgeon performed a partial nephrectomy and removed some nearby lymph nodes. Unfortunately, the surgery and a course of chemotherapy did not halt the growth of Othel’s aggressive cancer. When her surgeon moved to another hospital, he referred her to Alexander Kutikov, MD, a renowned kidney specialist and surgical oncologist at Fox Chase.

“The day I met Dr. Kutikov, I wasn’t feeling well and wasn’t in a good mood,” she remembered. “Once he started speaking, I felt better. Between his professional demeanor, his smile and Lisa’s beautiful smile, they were able to reduce my fears. Dr. Kutikov promised to take care of me and he’s lived up to his words.”

Although Othel’s sarcomatoid renal cell cancer is both rare and incurable, it can be managed more like a chronic disease. Dr. Kutikov performed surgery later in 2010, this time to remove her left kidney. Recovery was slow and she missed seven months of work. “My coworkers took turns donating hours to me so I never missed a paycheck. I have multiple families who support me,” she said. “My friends, my church, my family and my coworkers are all like family to me,” she said. "The support I’ve received has been amazing.”

She also considers her team at Fox Chase to be an exceptional family. “Dr. Kutikov's nurse, Lisa Hicks, is one of the most beautiful nurses in the world,” she said. “She spends time, she listens, she cares about every one of her patients.  When I have to hear uncomfortable news, I say 'Lisa, I need special prayers,' and she always answers, 'you’re in my prayers'.”

Othel's medical oncologist, Elizabeth Plimack, MD, has been managing her chemotherapy at Fox Chase. “Dr. Plimack is just wonderful. She’s always on top of how I’m doing.” Othel also enrolled in a music therapy program directed by Karen Mechanic, MD, to help her manage stress. “I never thought that music therapy would be able to console or relax me. I didn’t realize the positive impact music could provide.”

“I’m still looking for a miracle,” she said. “I’m always praying that a new medication will be discovered and it will help me. When I walk through the halls at Fox Chase, I think, I’m not alone. I put a smile on my face. Maybe I can make somebody else smile too.”

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