Denise Coldwater

Kidney Cancer Patient Stories

Kidney Cancer
Denise Coldwater

One of Denise's favorite activities is caring for her horse.

In 1999, at the age of 45, Denise Coldwater of Enid, Oklahoma, was diagnosed with kidney cancer. At the time, her only choice was a total nephrectomy (removal of the kidney). After treatment, Denise resumed her life raising three sons and teaching school. At home, she and her husband, Mike, ran a cattle ranch. Hoping her cancer journey was in her rear view mirror, Denise was shocked in 2014 to learn she had cancer again - this time in her remaining kidney. With her life on the line, Denise began a national search for answers which ended at Fox Chase Cancer Center—1,500 miles from home.

After losing a kidney to cancer in 1999, Denise couldn't imagine losing her remaining kidney to the same disease.

In March 2014, Denise, who had just turned 60, was diagnosed with kidney stones. “I was never a candidate for a kidney transplant because I'm an only child—and the best donors are siblings," admitted Denise.

“Dr. Uzzo at Fox Chase was my only hope to save my kidney."

After her previous bout with kidney cancer, she was concerned. But her fear increased immensely when her kidney shut down. A series of tests, including a sonogram, MRI and needle biopsy revealed kidney cancer. "Surgery was not an option for me, so I looked to my doctors for advice," recalled Denise. Fortunately Denise's doctors had recently read about Dr. Uzzo at Fox Chase in Philadelphia, one of the country's best known urologic oncology surgeons who was skilled at organ preservation surgery whenever possible. "Dr. Uzzo at Fox Chase was my only hope to save my kidney."

After a phone consultation, Denise decided to make the trip to Philadelphia for surgery with Dr. Uzzo. The Coldwaters asked two of their three sons to manage the ranch and packed for Philadelphia.  "Everyone we spoke to at Fox Chase was very supportive and accommodating," admitted Denise. "They even arranged for us to stay in Fox Chase-owned apartments."

In mid-July 2014, Mike and Denise left their home in Oklahoma and arrived on July 14 for her surgery. "As soon as we met Dr. Uzzo, we felt completely confident in his ability to perform surgery," shared Denise, who was shocked to see her third son and his wife waiting for them. “They live in Houston and surprised us at Fox Chase. We are extremely grateful for the love and support of our family.”

Denise Coldwater

Denise and her husband took this photo to celebrate the moment Dr. Uzzo discharged her from Fox Chase.

On July 14, Dr. Uzzo performed a partial nephrectomy—an intricate surgery to remove the cancer, while preserving the function of the kidney. During the surgery, he discovered a tumorous clot in her renal vein. Dr. Uzzo, one of a select group of urologic surgeons in the nation who is skilled at this technically complex procedure, was able to clear the vein and successfully save Denise’s kidney. 

Dr. Uzzo's goal was to return Denise home with a functioning kidney.

“My goal was to return Denise home with a functioning kidney cancer-free and off dialysis,” shared Dr. Uzzo, who was able to achieve that. A few days post-surgery, Denise’s kidney function returned to normal.

“I couldn't have asked for anyone better than Dr. Uzzo,” explained Denise, who felt that he treated her like she was a member of his own family and made choices as if she were family. “His entire team is professional and compassionate. Everyone at Fox Chase is incredibly responsive - especially the nurses." After several days in the hospital, Denise was able to move into housing arranged by Fox Chase before she was medically released to return to Oklahoma.

“The ride home was challenging, but we took our time, covering about 500 miles per day," shared Denise, who was thrilled to reach her home on the third day. Denise recovered nicely and eventually returned to her part-time job at a law firm, along with running the ranch. “Thanks to Dr. Uzzo, I'm alive to enjoy my family and my grandchildren.

“My decision to go to Dr. Uzzo was the best decision I've made."

“My decision to go to Dr. Uzzo was the best decision I've made. I never gave it a second thought," said Denise. "When someone I meet tells me they have cancer, I say put gas in the car and head to Philadelphia. Even if it's half way across the country! Go see Dr. Uzzo—he's the man!"