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El Camino Hospital and Me

Devoted Daughter Shares Her Mother's Story of Late-Stage Kidney Cancer

Many of us, while aging ourselves, are also caring for aging parents. And, as we watch them age, we hope and pray that they will make it through their 60s, 70s, 80s and beyond in relatively good health, with maybe a few aches and pains here and there but nothing more than that.

But it doesn't always work out that way. Linda received the worst possible news a daughter could ever hear: Her mother had stage IV renal cell (kidney) cancer--the most advanced stage. And, because Linda's mother only speaks Chinese, she was also given the difficult job of having to translate everything the doctors were saying about her mother's condition. And it wasn't good.

The cancer was not only in her mother's kidney, it had spread into the vein that leads up to the heart (inferior vena cava) and was very close to the heart.

Linda and her mother met with medical oncologist Shane Dormady, M.D. of El Camino Hospital's Cancer Center. After carefully examining Linda's mother and taking her medical history, Dr. Dormady came up with a treatment plan, starting with chemotherapy followed by surgery.

At the same time, Linda consulted with another expert, who was not optimistic about her mother's chances, especially concerning the surgery.

But Linda and her mother decided to go ahead with the treatment plan. The first surgery successfully removed her mother's diseased kidney, but the tumor near her heart proved too difficult to remove.

Linda was devastated. Her mom was on the edge of death. Linda and her mother felt hopeless. Yet, Dr. Dormady told them not to give up; he said there is always a chance of survival. In talking with Dr. Dormady, Linda learned that the Stanford Cardiothoracic Surgery Program at El Camino Hospital might be able to help her mother.

Linda and her mother met with vascular surgeon Christopher Zarins, M.D. and cardiothoracic surgeon Ramin Beygui, M.D., who also serves as medical director for the program. They agreed to operate. And, in August 2009, Dr. Zarins and Dr. Beygui completely removed the tumor near the heart.

"We are so grateful to all the excellent doctors and surgeons, especially Dr. Dormady. He saved my mother's life," says Linda, who was amazed at the time Dr. Dormady spent analyzing the details of the case and connecting Linda with two of the top surgeons in the Bay Area. "He didn't give up on us."

After the surgery, Linda's mother was also given CyberKnife treatment, a new type of targeted radiation. A follow-up PET Scan confirmed the happy news: Linda's mother was in remission.

When her mother turned 70, Linda didn't think she would survive this long, given her advanced stage of cancer at the time of the diagnosis. (The American Cancer Society reports that the five-year survival rate for stage IV renal cell cancer is about 8 percent.)

When asked what truly made an impact on her mother's care, Linda points out how Dr. Dormady and the El Camino Hospital team always stayed positive, despite the odds. And now Linda looks forward to having much more time with her mother than she ever would have imagined.