Berch Harris

Kidney Cancer Patient Stories

Berch Harris

Berch Harris wed Vallerie Armstrong in the Carribean in December 2007.

While managing kidney disease and dialysis, Berch Harris fought cancer, too - and at the same time contributed more to the community than most people who work full-time jobs.

In 2002, in his early 30s, Berch found himself in a New York City emergency room complaining of lethargy and vomiting. He was diagnosed with hypertension and kidney disease. Since that time, Berch has developed kidney failure, which required starting life-sustaining hemodialysis treatments. Berch managed his health so well that in 2007 he was able to marry Vallerie Armstrong.

Just a few months later they were caught by surprise when Berch was diagnosed with a cancerous tumor on his kidney. His doctor immediately referred him to Fox Chase Cancer Center.

"We knew that Fox Chase is the place to go if you have cancer."

"My wife Vallerie and I were newlyweds at the time. She was very worried about my diagnosis. But we also knew that Fox Chase is the place to go if you have cancer. So we kept a positive attitude and started our journey," said Berch.

Berch had his first appointment with David Chen, MD, a surgical oncologist who specializes in urologic cancers, including kidney cancer. Berch explained, "As soon as my wife and I met Dr. Chen, we felt confident. He is professional, knowledgeable, and explained everything to us."

"Berch's case was challenging -- but something we were equipped to handle."

According to Dr. Chen, "Berch's case was challenging. He is a young man and it is unusual to find kidney cancer in someone at his age. At the same time, his kidney function had deteriorated and an important concern was to get him to a point to be a candidate for a kidney transplant as soon as possible. With his needing dialysis, Berch's quality of life was significantly impaired. I knew that his return to a normal lifestyle would probably only happen if he could receive a kidney transplant. I recommended undergoing a minimally invasive radical nephrectomy because it is a proven treatment for kidney cancer that would also result in an easier recovery," said Dr. Chen.

In July 2008, Dr. Chen performed laparoscopic surgery to remove the diseased kidney. The surgery was successful and further treatment was not required.

Berch Harris

"Everyone you meet at Fox Chase genuinely cares about you."

Berch continued, "The great thing about the hospital is that everyone you meet at Fox Chase genuinely cares about you. It is a warm hospital - and that is hard to find."

Because Berch's surgery was performed laparoscopically, his recovery was faster and easier than if it had been if performed in the traditional open way. There was a minimal incision and a reduced risk of infection, which was very important in light of his kidney failure.

"The nursing care was wonderful."

Berch recalled, "The nursing care was wonderful, although I didn't get to spend too much time with them. I only had to stay in the hospital for one night. That was a nice surprise!" Despite his underlying medical issues, Berch was well enough and strong enough to leave the hospital on the first day after surgery.

Berch's successful surgery quickly made him eligible for the next step needed for his medical care - a kidney transplant. After spending some time on a waiting list, Berch discovered that he didn't have to look far for the right organ - his wife, Vallerie, was a perfect match. On February 17, 2009, Vallerie donated her kidney to Berch, and they both remain in good health to this day.

Dedicated to Educating the Community

Berch is dedicated to educating the community about kidney disease. In the summer 2008, he organized the "2nd Annual Walk-a-Thon to Stomp Out Kidney Disease" in New Jersey. He explained, "The purpose of our Walk-A-Thon was to raise awareness of individuals who think kidney failure is a disease for the elderly. I wanted to take charge and lead by example! Just because I have a chronic illness, it surely doesn't mean my life is over, or my dreams for the future should come to an end."

Berch and Vallerie also founded a non-profit organization with the broader mission of creating community-based programs where individuals of all backgrounds can come together to stimulate community growth and well-being. Their most recent project, in 2011, has been the launch of an internet radio station to promote the outreach programs their organization is doing. They also promote special events for other nonprofit organizations and small to mid-size businesses.