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Tammy: Kidney Cancer Survivor

Dedicated to tomorrow's goals

In 2015, Tammy Murphy was working for the Connecticut State Police Fleet Administration as their Office Administrator. She was responsible for taking receipt of old patrol cars when they were turned in and coordinating the purchase and customization of new cruisers. She had been working with the State Police for ten years and loved her job.

As a borderline diabetic, Tammy was trying to lose weight and had attempted popular weight loss programs and food journaling with minimal success, but knew it was important – and vital – to lower her weight and improve her health. After consulting with her doctor, she started taking Metformin, a prescription medication that helps to lower the amount of sugar in the blood for people with type 2 diabetes. It has also been known to help with weight loss. She started in November 2015, and over the next three months, Tammy quickly lost 35 pounds, which was more than expected. Concerned about her rapid weight loss, Tammy underwent a thorough evaluation by her physician, including a CT Scan. The day after the scan, her doctor called and asked her to meet with a urologist for additional review. Tammy did and was referred to Dr. Patrick Kenney, urologic surgeon at Smilow Cancer Hospital.

At her appointment with Dr. Kenney, Tammy learned that she had cancer in her right kidney that was extending into the inferior vena cava, the largest vein in the body, and up into her heart. Finally, after two weeks of testing and procedures, Tammy learned the full extent of her condition. It was a very rare circumstance and would require extensive surgery to save her life. Tammy, her husband John, and Dr. Kenney, discussed next steps, and she now says that she did not initially fully grasp the extent of her problem. She felt fine, and had no symptoms other than the weight loss. It was hard to believe she had a tumor growing into her heart and that a piece of it could break off, a scenario that would be fatal.

Tammy was admitted to Smilow Cancer Hospital and was evaluated by a multidisciplinary team of highly specialized surgeons. After several days of additional testing and preparation, Tammy underwent surgery. The operation was delicate and involved placing Tammy on cardiopulmonary bypass, cooling her body and organs to slow metabolic processes to decrease oxygen needs. Once her body had adequately cooled, the bypass machine was turned off – a process known as deep hypothermic circulatory arrest. Working quickly, with the blood flow stopped, the surgeons could open the heart and vena cava and remove the tumor in its entirety. With the heart and veins repaired, circulation could once again be restored. Tammy’s right kidney, where the tumor originated, was also removed. Thanks to the expertise of her surgical team, Tammy was cancer free.

“Tammy’s was a highly complex case that was imminently life threatening, risking pulmonary embolism,” noted Dr. Kenney. “Although very complicated, surgery for this cancer has the potential to cure. Tammy benefited from our very experienced, multidisciplinary team comprised of cardiac, liver, and urologic cancer surgeons for this extraordinary operation. She has done beautifully after surgery and remains cancer free with a new lease on life.”

After a few days in the Intensive Care Unit, Tammy returned to the 15th floor of Smilow’s North Pavilion for the remainder of her recovery, the same floor where she had stayed during her pre-surgical testing and became enamored with the staff and nurses. Happy and now extra motivated to work towards her goal of a discharge in time for her grandson Jack’s birthday, Tammy successfully hit all the goals her care team set and made it home for his big day.

“Everyone on the 15th floor – the nurses, aides, PAs – were awesome,” said Tammy. “They were the best, and all contributed to my recovery. In fact, when I returned for a check-up six month after surgery, I was walking in from the parking garage and one of my former nurses saw me and came over to make sure I was not being admitted. They were really special.”

Two and a half years later, Tammy remains cancer free – a great testament to her strength and her team.

Learn more about the Prostate and Urologic Cancers Program