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Kathy: Bladder and Kidney Cancer Survivor

My first encounter with cancer was in October 2008 when I was diagnosed with kidney cancer and needed to have my right kidney removed. A few years passed, and I thought I was done with cancer; unfortunately, I was wrong. In the summer of 2011, I began having severe urinary tract infections. I contacted my kidney surgeon, who, after performing a cystoscopy, discovered a tumor in the wall of my bladder. After further testing, I diagnosed with muscle-invasive bladder cancer.

Due to the size of the tumor, my entire bladder needed to be removed, and the surgery would be complicated. I contacted three other physicians from three different hospitals for second opinions, but they were ‘doom and gloom’ and just not interested in my case. Feeling defeated and uncertain about my future or what to do next, I spoke with the Deacon at my church and he suggested I try the newly-opened Smilow Cancer Hospital where he had heard nothing but good things.

After doing some research online I scheduled an appointment with Dr. John Colberg, a urologic oncologist at Smilow. He presented me with several options, but ultimately recommended that I still proceed with removal of my bladder, construction of an Ileal conduit with an ostomy bag, as well as undergo a full hysterectomy. Of all the providers I met, Dr. Colberg stood out because he had a plan. I felt like he really did his homework, and that meant a lot to me.

I underwent surgery in October 2011, and stayed at Smilow for nine days. My surgery went so well that I did not require any recovery time in the ICU, and additional treatment for the bladder cancer was not needed. It feels funny to say this, but I enjoyed my stay at Smilow. I never once had any fear or anxiety–the staff was amazing, and Dr. Colberg was very reassuring.

At my post-op appointment, Dr. Colberg said my biopsy report came back clean for my lymph nodes, uterus, and ovaries, and Dr. Hari Deshpande, my oncologist, also extended my CT scans out to every 6-12 months. Five years later, I was declared to be in remission.

Unfortunately, this only lasted three years, as I had a recurrence of kidney cancer in 2019. A mass in my right kidney bed was discovered by my physician’s routine CT scan—for which I am so grateful as I was experiencing no symptoms. I immediately contacted Dr. Colberg at Smilow for a recommendation on what to do next, and he referred me to his colleague, Dr. Patrick Kenney, a fellow urologic oncologist and surgeon, who consults with patients who have kidney cancer. In June 2020, the mass was removed, and I continue to check in with Dr. Kenney.

Cancer has certainly tested my faith in God. After visiting several hospitals, I believe he guided me to Smilow. In doing so, my faith has grown stronger in him and I found a great hospital. Whenever I hear of someone who has cancer, I always ask if they would consider Smilow Cancer Hospital, and I share my story with them.

Any hospital stay can be overwhelming and a challenge. However, my experiences at Smilow were exceptional. The staff was always smiling—never negative, and they took great care of me.

Learn more about the Prostate and Urologic Cancers Program