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Thomas Nixon: Dealing With Kidney Cancer During the COVID-19 Pandemic

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“The thing I would most like to do is shake Dr. Kutikov’s hand. We had to elbow bump at the beginning because of COVID-19. So I’m looking forward to shaking his hand and thanking him properly for all he’s done for me.”

— Thomas Nixon

I’m 61 and I’m from New Hope, Pennsylvania. One of my favorite things to do is spend time with my family. My brother and I do a sports weekend every year where we visit a city and see as many sporting events as we can. The rest of the year, I look forward to being with my grandchildren. That’s why it was particularly painful to be diagnosed with kidney cancer and, of all times, during the COVID-19 pandemic.

A Bad Time for a Tough Diagnosis

In February 2020, I started to experience some back pain I thought was related to a surgery I had about 30 years ago. I went to see my primary care physician, who ordered an MRI. It showed a mass on my kidney about the size of a peach. I was then sent to an orthopedic surgeon who thought the mass might just be a cyst, so he made an appointment for me to see a urologist.

I found out from the urologist that the mass was cancerous. I never expected what I heard, that my cancer was aggressive. I went back to my primary care doctor and asked if I should get a second opinion. He told me I should, so I was referred to Dr. Alexander Kutikov, a surgical oncologist at Fox Chase Cancer Center.

Thomas Nixon flashes a smile with his wife Annette.Thomas Nixon flashes a smile with his wife Annette.The first thing I did was go home and tell my wife. We cried a little bit and told each other we’d get through it. We’re married 36 years and she was a big support. At the next appointment, my wife went with me. Dr. Kutikov looked at the MRIs and said he was 80 percent sure the tumor was cancerous.

He ordered a biopsy, gave me an opportunity to enroll in a clinical trial, and then scheduled me for minimally invasive surgery on March 27. Because the tumor was large and proved to be cancer on biopsy, we couldn’t wait because there was a risk of it spreading and maybe growing into the veins of the kidney.

COVID-19 Ramps Up

This was all during the time that COVID-19 was beginning to ramp up in the United States. I was concerned that my surgery would be rescheduled or even canceled, especially since I work in a facility that had a confirmed case of COVID-19. When I found out about the virus, I called Dr. Kutikov to ask if there was anything I should do. He told me not to go to work for 10 days prior to the surgery.

I was initially told that I would likely be recovering for three days in the hospital. On the morning of my surgery they called and said I would be discharged the next day.

But still, I remembered that I wasn’t permitted to have visitors, which is tough when you’re coming out of surgery. I know about isolation because I’m in the medical field. I understood the reason for it, even though I think most people don’t.

My wife and I weren’t happy about it, but we were comfortable with it. We were able to video chat, so that was nice. Dr. Kutikov also called my wife right after my surgery to let her know everything went well and to answer her questions. We really appreciated that. We also were thankful for the great nursing care that I got.

Returning to Normalcy

Since having surgery, Nixon has not been able to spend time with his grandchildren due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Pictured here with him is his granddaughter, Genevieve Malcolm.Since having surgery, Nixon has not been able to spend time with his grandchildren due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Pictured here with him is his granddaughter, Genevieve Malcolm.Now, I’m up and walking with no pain medication at all. I have Dr. Kutikov and Fox Chase to thank for all their work and support. Any questions I had, Dr. Kutikov answered them and he was never in a rush. He was very responsive.

Now that I’m feeling better, I’m looking forward to the end of COVID-19 so that I can get back to spending time with my grandchildren.

The thing I would most like to do is shake Dr. Kutikov’s hand. We had to elbow bump at the beginning because of COVID-19. So I’m looking forward to shaking his hand and thanking him properly for all he’s done for me.

I would recommend Fox Chase and Dr. Kutikov to anyone with my diagnosis. Any questions you have, ask. He was open and willing to answer all my questions.

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

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