Patti Callahan

Kidney Cancer Patient Stories

Patti Callahan

Patti and her daughter, Ashley, enjoy time away at the beach.

Patti Callahan doesn't consider herself an alarmist. But when ongoing symptoms of persistent back pain were followed with incidents of stress incontinence, she knew something wasn't right. Although a bulging disc and two pregnancies could have accounted for both symptoms, Patti's family doctor ordered a renal and pelvic ultrasound in June of 2009. It revealed what she had feared, a small lesion in the mid to upper section of her left kidney. A CT scan confirmed a 2.3 centimeter mass suspicious for renal cell carcinoma.

In addition to both of her parents, 4 out of 5 siblings in Patti's family were diagnosed with cancer.

Patti Callahan

Patti and her daughter, Ashley

Her reaction? "I wasn't surprised," says Patti, who was 40 at the time. Unfortunately, cancer has been an unwelcome guest at her family table for years. Her father, a heavy smoker and asbestos worker, died in 2007 of lung cancer. Her mother was treated at Fox Chase Cancer Center for lung cancer. Of the 5 siblings, all but one brother has been diagnosed with cancer. Patti's older sister had surgery for breast cancer at age 50. Her oldest bother had his prostate removed at age 52 and is now cancer-free. Her middle brother was treated at Fox Chase for lung cancer with brain metastases. In 2009, it was Patti's turn.

"The reason that we've all chosen Fox Chase was, first, by reputation. We knew that it was the only place to go for cancer treatment."

"With my family history, I was just happy doctors found my cancer early and it was small enough to remove," shares the Philadelphia native. "The reason that we've all chosen Fox Chase was, first, by reputation. We knew that it was the only place to go for cancer treatment. When I was diagnosed, I had already spent time there with my father and brother. After watching seeing how well they were treated, with respect and sensitivity, I knew it was the right place for me." Patti turned to Rosalia Viterbo, MD, a surgical oncologist who specializes in minimally-invasive robotic-assisted surgery.

"Dr. Viterbo is a wonderful, caring individual."

"Dr. Viterbo is a wonderful, caring individual and made me feel very comfortable from the start," explains Patti. Dr. Viterbo reviewed all the test results with Patti, including the CT scan, showing her what the tumor looked like via computer. Her recommendation? Robotic-assisted surgery to perform the partial nephrectomy, a minimally invasive procedure to remove the cancer while salvaging the organ and its function. This method results in less bleeding, reduced scarring, shorter hospital stay and a faster recovery.

In August 2009, Dr. Viterbo performed surgery a Friday and sent Patti home on Sunday. She took two months at home to recover before returning to her physically demanding job as a neonatal intensive care nurse. "I could have gone back sooner but I wanted to just relax and come to terms with my diagnosis," she adds. Thanks to the love and support of family, friends and especially her husband and two teenage children, things are back to normal in her world.

Patti's children, Ashley and Frank Callahan

Patti's children, Ashley and Frank Callahan

Patti tells others to trust your instincts when it comes to your health.

At her check-up in August 2010, Patti learned she was cancer-free and continues to receive follow-up care In 2014, Patti celebrated her five-year anniversary remaining cancer-free along with the rest of her family. If there was one thing she learned during the experience was to not second-guess her own instincts. "You know your own body. Don't let anything go undiagnosed," suggests Patti. "There is hope and as I tell everyone that I know, if something is not right, never give up until it is."