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Sharon Melchiorre - Patient Story

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"From the moment I met Dr. Chen, I knew I was in good hands."

— Sharon Melchiorre, Kidney Cancer Survivor

In December 2008, I had just learned that my daughter was pregnant with our first grandchild. It was an exciting time in our family. As I usually do yearly, I reported to my routine annual physical with my primary care physician and didn’t expect anything unusual.

After my appointment, however, my doctor called to report that trace amounts of blood were found in my urine, and although it was probably nothing, he said we should get it checked out to be on the safe side. I was referred to a urologist who reiterated what my doctor had said—that most of the time it’s nothing. But a CAT scan in January 2009 proved both doctors wrong. There was something suspicious on the scan, and a follow-up MRI was scheduled. That’s when they were fairly certain I had cancer.

My doctor asked me to come to the office with my husband as soon as possible. I was devastated and scared. No one ever wants to hear the dreaded “C” word. I was told there a large tumor on my right kidney, and a small, undistinguishable mark on my left kidney was detected. 

In March 2009, I underwent a right nephrectomy (removal of my right kidney) at a hospital close to my home in Montgomery County, PA. I returned to work in late April thrilled to have this terrible ordeal behind me—or so I thought. My first follow-up appointment went well. A second follow-up appointment was scheduled six months later, and the doctors planned to read the results of another MRI. I had the MRI in August and anxiously waited for my appointment with the original doctor. But I received a call at work right after Labor Day, and she told me there was now a small tumor in my left kidney. I was in a daze and thought it was the end for me. 

At this point, the urologist recommended that I seek a second opinion to treat the tumor on my left kidney and referred me to Fox Chase Cancer Center. I was able to get an appointment with Dr. David Y. T. Chen, a urologic surgeon at Fox Chase.

From the moment I met Dr. Chen, I knew I was in good hands. He has a very calming manner and understood my fears. I had many, many questions, and he was prepared and able to answer all of them and slightly lessen my fears.

Dr. Chen explained that other than the tumor, I was a young, healthy woman. He recommended a partial nephrectomy, removing just the tumor while preserving the normal portion of my left kidney. This treatment would offer me the best outcome and allow me to maintain my quality of life, without the need for dialysis. Dr. Chen was always very confident that I would beat this aggressive disease. His confidence was very comforting. He made himself available by phone for any questions or concerns I may have had and always took the time to return my calls personally and answer my questions.

Dr. Chen performed the surgery in October 2009. I spent almost a week in the hospital and another six weeks at home recuperating. The recovery was a bit more difficult than it was after the first surgery because the kidney had to heal as did the incision. But I got through it fine. As I did with my first surgery, I took a six-week leave of absence from my job as an accounts payable manager for a multifaceted developer/construction company, where I’ve worked for 24 years. Along with my visiting nurse, I had family and friends who helped take care of me the first few weeks I was home after each surgery. That was a big help; I was able to get proper rest and recuperate fully.

My follow-up appointments began every three months, then dropped to six months and yearly. I now only need to see Dr. Chen every two years. I’ve come such a long way from where I started. Before each check-up, I had bloodwork, a chest X-ray, and an MRI. I felt as though I was living my life in chunks. After each clean check-up, I would go back and start living my life, free from worry, and then the time would creep up for the worrisome appointment and my fears would come roaring back. It was such a vicious cycle. Now, I finally feel like I truly have my life back and I’m in control.

My husband, Tony, and I live in Horsham, PA. We have one daughter, April, who lives in North Carolina with her husband, Anthony, and their daughter, Anna Rose. My family is everything to me, and without them, especially my husband, I would have never made it through this ordeal. I often say he was my rock throughout this, and I truly mean that.

Since my cancer diagnosis, I feel like my priorities have changed. I know it sounds cliché, but it’s very true. I try not to let the small inconveniences and problems of everyday life get the best of me, and I try to take it more in stride. I’ve also found that talking to people has been the best therapy. Since my surgeries, I’ve encountered a handful of people who have been diagnosed with kidney cancer, and I’ve talked to them, some at great length. I feel it has helped them and me to gain some perspective on the situation. When you know others who are going through or have gone through a situation similar to your own, it’s reassuring to know you’re not alone. If my story helps ease the fears of just one person going through this, whether they’re going through it themselves or coping with a family member who is, then I feel I have accomplished something very important.

The best decision I ever made was going to Fox Chase Cancer Center. I can’t begin to properly express my gratitude to Dr. Chen. Every time I see a Fox Chase TV commercial, I pause and think to myself, “I’m here today because of them.”

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