Debbie Talcott on her ranch in Montana. Diagnosed with Wilm’s tumor as a child, she was then diagnosed with metastatic RCC fifty-five years later. She has responded well to systemic therapy – but still hopes for a cure.
My name is Debbie Talcott, in 1962 at the age of 4.5 years, after being treated several weeks for pneumonia, exploratory surgery was performed, and I was finally diagnosed with Wilm’s tumor. It was the same year JFK said we would put a man on the moon.
Radiation treatments shrank the large tumor that distended my stomach, so it could be removed. I remember very little from that time except for pretending to blow out a match, so I would hold my breath for imaging. I also remember a little wind-up toy radio that my roommate and I both had, at Saint Mary’s Hospital in Rochester, Minnesota. That is where the surgeons removed the large tumor on my right kidney, right adrenal gland, and cells were scraped off my liver to save my life. The doctors started me on a chemotherapy drug called actinomycin-D.
Fast forward 55 years, married for 40 years, two sons, and four grandchildren. Abnormal blood results, weight loss, fatigue, and stomach issues sent me on another odyssey looking for a diagnosis. The first two doctors couldn’t find out what was wrong, my blood work remained abnormal. Finally, my GP ordered an ultrasound that revealed a mass on my liver. I went back the next day for a CT scan that showed a mass on my one remaining kidney.
The liver biopsy confirmed papillary renal cell carcinoma. Dr. Fiddler, a medical oncologist here in Montana, suggested a clinical trial for Keytruda, but before signing up for it, he recommended and helped me get a second opinion at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN. My husband, sister and niece all joined me for the road trip.
We learned how efficient the Clinic is, tests on the first day and appointment with the oncologist the second day. While listening to my lungs and heart Dr. Quevedo discovered a bump on my sternum. I had visited two dermatologists, and the second doctor wanted to remove it the spring before, but I was busy and canceled the appointment. My Granddaughter told me she was going to be a doctor when she grew up, and she would remove it. Dr. Quevedo didn’t like the look of it. There was a blizzard hitting Rochester that day and as a result, there were many cancellations, which meant they could quickly schedule me for surgery to remove the lump.
Dr. Quevedo and the rest of the Mayo team were in agreement with my Montana oncologist, that the Keytruda trial that I had been accepted into, was the best treatment for my RCC. They also said with the liver involved removing my remaining kidney wasn’t the best option and confirmed what Dr. Fiddler in Montana said about my prognosis, I had two years at best.
Just over a week later Dr. Quevedo called to tell me that the tumor they removed from my sternum wasn’t metastatic disease from the RCC, that it was breast cancer. The good news was that there wasn’t any additional evidence of disease from the breast cancer. The bad news was that the diagnosis of a secondary malignancy made me ineligible for the clinical trial.
Dr Fiddler’s recommendation was for me to start treatment with Votrient, an oral targeted therapy. It was very hard on me, my normally low blood pressure sky-rocketed and caused severe headaches. I am 5’6” and by the end of May I weighed under 110 pounds, platelets were dangerously low, and blood vessels in my eyes broke, and to this day I still have the floaters. I took a break and started at a lower dose with the highest dose blood pressure meds recommended. Once again my blood pressure couldn’t be lowered. CT scan in June showed it was working, but it was killing me.
Dr. Fiddler suggested we try Opdivo. That was June of 2017 and thankfully I am a responder. The spots on my lungs they thought weren’t anything and the liver mets are resolved, the kidney tumor is smaller, and has been stable since.
With a wonderful support team, and the help of the good Lord, I surpassed the two years that I was given and now am starting my fifth year. I have advocated for cancer research funding and I urge you to do the same. They did put a man on the moon, but still haven’t found a cure for cancer. I pray they find it in my lifetime