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Pete Vaccaro - Patient Story

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"What the doctors and staff at Fox Chase did for me is immeasurable"

— Pete Vaccaro, Testicular Cancer Survivor

When I walked into Fox Chase Cancer Center in 1998, I wasn’t sure I would be around for the birth of my first child. I was 31 years old at the time, and had just been diagnosed with cancer. Today, my wife Natalie and I have a two sons and a daughter. My life is complete, and I owe it all to Fox Chase.

My wife was pregnant with our first child when I realized that my chronic back pain was worrisome. My doctor ordered an X-ray, which revealed a mass on my abdomen that looked like cancer. My world seemed to slow down. The diagnosis came completely out of the blue.

When my local doctors diagnosed the tumor as terminal carcinoma, my wife and I were more terrified than ever. My father-in-law suggested that I get a second opinion at Fox Chase, about 60 miles from where we live. I called Fox Chase that night and said I would be there the next day, with or without an appointment. I also called a friend who is a doctor and asked him to interpret some numbers on my test results. He asked for the results of my HCG (human chorionic gonadotropin hormone) level. My test result was 89,000. Normal is between 0 and 5.

The next day, my wife and I walked in to Fox Chase without an appointment. The receptionist recognized our distress and assured us she would do everything in her power to make sure we met with a doctor that day.  When a doctor made time in his schedule to see us, we realized the level of compassion at Fox Chase is what differentiates it from other cancer centers.

Pete and Natalie VaccaroPete and Natalie Vaccaro

Dr. Richard Greenberg, Chief of Urologic Oncology, conducted several tests and consulted with his colleagues about the results. The test results indicated testicular cancer that had spread, or metastasized, to my liver and lungs. Natalie and I were devastated, but also relieved that we had a definitive diagnosis and treatment plan. Because my disease was metastatic, I started chemotherapy the day the diagnosis was made.

My treatment plan began with 4 cycles of aggressive chemotherapy to shrink the tumors. The side effects from treatment were challenging, and at one point I had to meet doctors at the hospital at 10 pm because of those effects. That’s when I knew that if I survived this, I owed my life to Fox Chase and that I would work to raise money for cancer research.

Once the chemotherapy helped shrink the tumors, and I was scheduled for surgery to remove the cancer that remained. On Natalie’s due date, June 11, 1998, I underwent a 10-hour surgical procedure to remove the lesions on my lungs and liver and a residual tumor on my abdomen.  Dr. Greenberg understood how concerned I was about my wife and the baby, and he worked closely with my nurses to safely expedite my recovery so that I could go home sooner than had been planned.

On June 15, we drove home from Fox Chase. No sooner than Natalie had unpacked the car did she announce that she was in labor. We left for the hospital, where nurses set up a bed for me next to Natalie’s so that I wouldn’t miss the birth of our son Peter.

Almost 19 years later, I am cancer free. What the doctors and staff at Fox Chase did for me is immeasurable. The nurses treated me like family, like a son. Nobody had to ask my name or what type of cancer I had; they always knew. I was, and still am, very impressed with Fox Chase.

I had the worst case scenario, and I truly believe I am alive and well because of my choice to go to Fox Chase. When my father had a recurrence of lung cancer in 2016, we knew exactly where he should receive care. We couldn’t be more pleased with his team of physicians keeping him alive and healthy.

I have kept the promise I made to myself to support cancer research. My team—For Pete’s Sake—competes in the annual Dragon Boat Festival race on the Schuylkill River in Philadelphia that benefits Fox Chase’s cancer research. I also visit patients when I am at Fox Chase, and keep a photo of myself during treatment to show other men in the same situation I was in. I treasure the opportunity to help others, because I know the importance of having that support.

Pete was the guest speaker at Cancer Survivors Day in 2012.Pete was the guest speaker at Cancer Survivors Day in 2012.

 

 

 

 

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