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Although not every 52-year-old man has an annual blood test, Joseph Weiss certainly does. A diabetic, he is religious about seeing a doctor each year. In late August 2011, his urine test results revealed an elevated protein level, which raised some concerns. It was Labor Day weekend, but that did not stop his doctor from referring Joseph to a nephrologist, Dr. Zoller, for an ultrasound. Within 12 hours, Joseph learned he had a mass, which came as a big surprise.
"I was in total shock. I had no pain and no symptoms."
Additional testing, including an MRI, confirmed he had a malignant tumor on his left kidney. Measuring 4.7 centimeters, the tumor was considered fairly large. “I was in total shock,” admitted Joe. “I had no pain and no symptoms.” His doctor referred Joe to Robert G. Uzzo, MD, FACS, Chairman of the Department of Surgery at Fox Chase Cancer Center. Dr. Uzzo is internationally recognized for his expertise kidney cancer, kidney preservation and robotic cancer surgery to preserve kidney function.
Everyone told me “It was my lucky day,” to be seen so quickly. Due to a cancellation in Dr. Uzzo’s schedule, Joe was able to meet with him within a week. “I felt like I hit the lottery.”
"Dr. Uzzo was genuinely interested in me as a person."
When Dr. Uzzo initially met with Joe and his wife, Sharon, he took time to get to know Joe before talking about his cancer. “I was so impressed,” shared Joe. “Dr. Uzzo was genuinely interested in me as a person – my interests, my hobbies, my family and my work. I felt completely comfortable.”
Dr. Uzzo shared his philosophy for kidney surgery. His goal is to save the organ, in this case the kidney, through a delicate procedure called a robotic partial nephrectomy. “He explained it is better to have some of the kidney than none of it. He even drew a diagram – upside down – so we could understand where the cancer was growing. I know other surgeons would just remove it. I had a good feeling and really connected with Dr. Uzzo.”
"We knew we were in good hands with Dr. Uzzo and Fox Chase."
The Weisses have two children – Kyle, a medical student at Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine, and Nicole, a psychology major at Muhlenberg College in Allentown. “We just became empty-nesters,” added Sharon. “And now we were dealing with cancer. We couldn’t believe it. But we knew we were in good hands with Dr. Uzzo and Fox Chase. He even took the time to talk to our son about his career in medicine.”
Continuing on his “lucky streak,” Joe learned that Dr. Uzzo had a cancellation in his surgery schedule and could have the procedure the following week – or he could wait six weeks. “Since I was concerned about the rate at which my cancer was growing, there was no question that I wanted to have the surgery immediately.”
“My husband has a type A personality, so he needed to have the surgery immediately,” joked Joe’s wife, Sharon, who was also impressed by how everything fell into place. “Everything happened so quickly. It was meant to be.”
"The nurses at Fox Chase were phenomenal."
"The nurses at Fox Chase were phenomenal and they took extra time to help me understand what was happening,” she added. “Ruthie, in ICU, happened to only have one patient that day – and it was Joe! He had a private nurse the first night of surgery. That was spectacular.”
Joe shared that “everyone across the board – from the nurses, aides, janitors, food service – were extremely nice, friendly and warm.” The day after surgery, Joe was moved to a step-down unit where he started to walk using a thoracic walker. He understood that the sooner he started moving, the sooner he would go home. “My job was to walk and breathe. So that's what I did. And I’d add that it was cool seeing the artwork around the Center.”
Joseph was home after three days and back to work on a part-time basis the following week. “It’s hard to believe, but in a period of six weeks I was diagnosed, treated and returned to work full time,” said Joe, who runs a family business called Transcor. “I feel great. Not only am I lucky that my cancer was discovered early, but very fortunate to be treated by an outstanding surgeon at an outstanding facility with great people.”
Once Dr. Uzzo gave Joe the green light, he was back to traveling, biking, exercising and spending time with his wife and kids. He feels blessed to have such a strong support system between work and his family.
Joe believes patients can help their recovery by having a positive attitude and pushing themselves to walk, breathe and eat. He tells others diagnosed with cancer to "Head straight to Fox Chase. It is a very manageable place. I especially liked the kiosk system for checking in. It made my visits flow well and was not confusion. It is a fantastic system and an even more fantastic hospital.”