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 started
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
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 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.
The honorabLe Tom marino (r-Pa) // age 62 // cogan s Ta Tion, Penns YLvania
suRviving KiDney CAnCeR