Cori Miller

2020 has been quite a year for us all so far. For me, it started off with a wildly unexpected curveball. After dealing with back pain for a while, my internist sent me for an MRI. While I did have one enlarged disc, the radiologist spotted something on my right kidney. I was assured that it was most likely a simple cyst, and that they were very common. I went for an ultrasound and that came back suspicious as well. Next I went for an MRI with contrast. Seeing as how I am 42, never smoked, and have no risk factors for kidney cancer, my internist of over a decade was not fazed, and said he would “fall off his chair” if it was anything to worry about. Well, I guess he called me from the floor that Friday recommending a surgical consult. I had pre-emptively secured an appointment with Fox Chase Cancer Center Urologic Oncology Division, and thank goodness I did. It was classified as a Bosniak III renal mass (1.5 cm), which has a 55% percent chance of malignancy.

The recommendation was removal via partial nephrectomy. I was in shock. No one expects to hear this when you are young, active, and healthy. Of all the possible health challenges for me to face, the irony of this particular diagnosis was unreal. I am a mom of boy/girl twin 9-year-olds, and a 12-year-old girl. I love to travel, and enjoy live music, running, hiking, and stay very active with my kids. I am in my 21st year with Pfizer, the past 16 of which I’ve worked in Oncology. More specifically, GU Oncology with a focus on Renal Cell Carcinoma. I started in the NYC area and now cover the Philadelphia region and beyond. I am very knowledgeable in this specific tumor type and the medical professionals who treat it. I guess that is a blessing, as I knew exactly where I wanted to go and who I wanted to see.

Thankfully, Dr. Robert Uzzo at Fox Chase was more than willing to take my case. I messaged him on a Saturday night, saw him that Monday morning, and we scheduled surgery for February after I got in one last business trip and celebrated all three kids’ birthdays in January. And then it was time. I knew I was in the very best hands. I was concerned about being unable to be care for my kids, being out of commission for several weeks, unable to exercise, and the scars that I would have from the robotic incisions. In retrospect, I feel foolish for having worried about those things as they were short-lived and superficial compared with what came next. I guess I didn’t allow myself to consider anything other than a clean bill of health, but there I was at my follow up with Dr. Uzzo a week later feeling pretty good, and he was confident he removed the entire mass which thankfully was localized.

Then came the pathology report: Renal Cell Carcinoma – Clear Cell- Stage 1. How could this be?! I just couldn’t wrap my head around the fact that my body produced this, and the fact that of all the things I could be facing, it’s something which I’m so deeply involved. It still seems surreal. I’m two months post-surgery, and back to my active lifestyle. I felt useless and frustrated in the weeks following, not being able to do things for the kids. I got a month-long head start on quarantine! Just as I was to return to work, the pandemic hit. I had mixed feelings returning to work, I missed my customers and colleagues, and getting out in my accounts, but I wasn’t sure how I would feel emotionally discussing kidney cancer every day when I just went through all that. On one hand, I can certainly empathize even more with the patient journey having just been on that side, but the clinical side of me worries about the cancer returning, and the watch-and-wait is a tough treatment plan for a proactive person like me.

I feel very fortunate to have incidentally caught this early, and I am confident I have had the very best care. I am optimistic that my scans will stay clear, and I can go on educating and learning about evolving options for other kidney cancer patients with metastatic disease. I have seen the evolution of options grow over the years and the prognosis just keeps improving. I will do all I can to bring information and resources while continually learning about this cancer, which always has and always will be near to my heart.