Arhonda Williams

Kidney Cancer Patient Stories, Clinical-Trials Patient Stories

Arhonda Williams

Arhonda La Rue Williams had given up hope. Diagnosed in 2011 with stage four renal cell cancer at the age of 46, this mother of three was in pain and felt that she was going to die, that there was no one who could help her. Three consults, including a doctor at a major university hospital, had left her despairing.  But Robert Williams, Sr., her husband of 23 years, never gave up hope and throughout the journey he was right by her side.

Six months prior to her diagnosis, Arhonda had experienced unexplained weight loss and some vaginal spotting, which her doctor attributed to an existing fibroid tumor. But after four months, Arhonda felt a lump in her stomach and pain in her back. She had a CAT scan, and was called to the doctor’s office the next day.  “I thought she was going to say I needed a hysterectomy,” she recalled. “When she said I had cancer, I couldn’t believe it. Nobody in my family ever had cancer.”

One of the doctors referred Arhonda to a urologic surgical oncologist, Alexander Kutikov, MD, at Fox Chase Cancer Center. That is where Arhonda learned she had a large mass on her right kidney, and the cancer had spread to her lungs.  

“Dr. Kutikov gave me so much hope."

Arhonda Williams

Arhonda Williams and her mom.

“Dr. Kutikov looked into my eyes and saw my pain, and I was done,” she recalled. “It was like he was saying,  ‘I’ve got you. I’m going to do this operation and we’re going to fight this together.’” She would need surgery, a nephrectomy, along with oral chemotherapy.  “Dr. Kutikov gave me so much hope, he explained everything to me. Right then, I was ready to do whatever I had to do to get better.” The surgery was a success and Arhonda’s remaining left kidney was healthy and functioning perfectly. 

Arhonda then met with her medical oncologist, Elizabeth Plimack, MD, who specializes in treating patients with kidney cancer. Dr. Plimack worked to determine the best course of therapy to attack the tumors in Arhonda’s lung. She enrolled Arhonda in a clinical trial, using the drug sunitinib, known to be effective in treating these types of tumors.

Arhonda’s body immediately began to respond to the drug, but she also experienced challenging side effects, including the loss of pigmentation in her skin and hair and sores on her hands and feet. Dr. Plimack established a course of treatment she could tolerate – two weeks on, one week off. CAT scans were used to measure positive results every six weeks. Arhonda continues to be monitored frequently to make sure the drug is still working. 

When it was determined that Arhonda would require a hysterectomy, she chose to see Stephanie King, MD, a gynecologic surgeon at Fox Chase. Again, the surgery was a success and Arhonda was able to continue her cancer treatment.

“Dr. Kutikov, Dr. Plimack and Dr. King, without a doubt, were all part of saving my life."

“Dr. Kutikov, Dr. Plimack and Dr. King, without a doubt, were all part of saving my life,” she said.  “They are my heroes.  I am so thankful and feel that the lord sent me to Fox Chase as a blessing.  And every last person at Fox Chase treated me like I was their mother, or their daughter or cousin. Going to a hospital every six weeks can be depressing, but I didn’t feel that way about Fox Chase.”

“For anybody with cancer, Fox Chase is the place to go. These people have your life in their hands. It’s so important to feel at home when you’re being treated for something as serious as cancer.  The other doctors hadn’t given me hope. Once my doctors made me see that I had a life ahead of me, I knew I was going to be able to fight.”