The Honorable Tom Marino: Surviving Kidney Cancer Thanks to Pioneering Surgery
Cogan Station, Pennsylvania
In 1999, when I was the District Attorney of Lycoming County, Pennsylvania, I was in Pittsburgh attending a conference and I woke up at 2 or 3 a.m. with tremendous pain in my back. It was so excruciating that I couldn’t make it out of my hotel room without help from a colleague who drove me to the emergency room.
At the hospital, I learned that I was passing kidney stones—that’s what was causing the pain—but the tests also revealed a cyst on my left kidney, which I was told I needed to have checked right away.
I went home and the next day saw my personal physician, who sent me to a nephrologist—a kidney specialist. That's when I learned there was a good chance I had cancer and that I would likely need my kidney removed. But I wanted to see if there were other options and was referred to a physician at the Cleveland Clinic who had just pioneered the partial nephrectomy to remove the cancerous part the kidney instead of the entire organ, for a second opinion.
After three days of tests, I was told I was a candidate for the partial nephrectomy and ultimately I was treated with that procedure in Cleveland.
As soon as you hear the word cancer, a million things run through your mind. I immediately thought about one of my close friends who died of kidney cancer. I starting thinking the worst: who would take care of my kids and my wife? My wife and I had just adopted our second child; he was only 30 days old, and my daughter was not quite 4.
I also got angry. I exercised regularly, I don’t drink or smoke, so I went through a phase of thinking, “Why me?” But my wife repeatedly urged me to stay strong and focus on what I needed to do to make it through this.
That's what I did. And it was fine until 10 years later, almost to the day. In 2009, during the regular scans and tests I got every three months, my doctors found a tumor in the remaining part of my left kidney, the kidney that had been partially resected to remove the original cancer. So I had surgery again.
And after being elected to Congress and taking office in 2011, they found tumors in my right kidney. So, I went back to Cleveland and they did another partial nephrectomy. Despite the three occurrences of cancer, I feel truly fortunate. Had it not been for the kidney stones, I may not have found out until it was too late and might not be here today.
My cancer experience changed my life in a number of ways. As a prosecutor, my career was important to me, but after my diagnosis, I wanted to spend more time with my kids and my wife.
I often say to myself, let me get me through this long enough to see my son through graduate school. Eventually, I may be a candidate for a kidney transplant or I will be on dialysis, but despite it all, I continue to stay strong because of my family.
My daughter has cystic fibrosis, a disease for which there currently is no cure, and she really is my rock. For that reason, I’ve always been a big supporter of increased funding for research on diseases such as cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, and cystic fibrosis—heartbreaking diseases that I have seen the effects of firsthand in my family.
Members of Congress are also affected by these devastating diseases, and I constantly have the opportunity to talk to colleagues about getting involved in these caucuses and the importance of a good, sound budget for the National Institutes of Health (NIH). And there is not a day that goes by that one of my colleagues, even those across the aisle, aren’t asking how I feel.
Putting the emotion aside for a moment, we’re going to find a cure for cancer and I expect we will do so in the near future. From an economic standpoint, it makes sense to provide the adequate funding for the NIH to find cures for these diseases. Our focus should be nothing less than improving the quality of life for all Americans. We have to think outside of the box, we have to take everyone into consideration. For those reasons, I am a huge proponent of the NIH and believe investment in the agency must continue to be a strong, national priority.
We can find cures because nowhere in the world do we have the talent like we do in the United States: the scientists, doctors, nurses, all of whom are all devoted to this important cause. They are the geniuses who will eventually find cures for this disease.
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