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Peggy Zuckerman, a long-time kidney cancer patient, advocate, and member of the KCA’s Patient & Caregiver Advisory Council, was the featured cover story for Cancer Today magazine’s Summer 2023 issue. She was diagnosed with kidney cancer in 2003.

Photo by Morgan Shidler.

“It was the start of a race, and I did not know it,” remembers Zuckerman, then 54, who was immediately admitted to the hospital and given three units of blood. Doctors told her they found a tiny scabbed-over stomach ulcer during an endoscopy and sent her home with iron pills.

But her anemia persisted. After nine months and a series of tests and frustrating misdiagnoses, Zuckerman learned she had clear cell renal cell carcinoma, the most common type of kidney cancer in adults. And while more than half of kidney cancer cases are found in early stages, Zuckerman’s cancer had spread to her lungs.

At one point, a doctor estimated she had 18 months to live. Now, 19 years after she received the diagnosis, the 74-year-old continues to apply her formidable energy to helping others navigate treatment options for kidney cancer.

Zuckerman initially sought treatment from Dr. Bradley Leibovich – a long-serving KCA Medical Steering Committee member and the current Chair of KCA’s Board of Directors – at the Mayo Clinic and later at UCLA for care closer to home.

“The most immediately helpful thing that Dr. Leibovich did for me in that first appointment was to say, ‘We have a plan,’” Zuckerman says. Because kidney cancer does not typically respond to chemotherapy and radiation, Zuckerman was told she would have surgery followed by interleukin-2 (IL-2), an immunotherapy treatment. “Knowing there was a plan gave me a sense that I wasn’t out of options—that something could be done beyond the surgery that I had already expected,” she says.

A long-time teacher, Zuckerman began to help support and educate others about kidney cancer, making technical concepts understandable through her blog and work with advocacy groups and research organizations.

Zuckerman calls herself an “expert patient” based on her experiences as a patient and patient advocate. She started connecting with other kidney cancer patients through support groups at UCLA and Cedars-Sinai after her treatment. In 2008, she started a blog to translate kidney cancer research findings into understandable language. In 2010, when she received her first invitation to speak at an internal meeting at Prometheus Laboratories about her IL-2 treatment, she jumped at the opportunity. “I realized that my story had value beyond the patients I corresponded with by email,” she says. She enrolled in a yearlong online patient advocacy training program through UCLA. “The same place that had saved my life now changed it again,” she says.

Zuckerman has since volunteered with nearly a dozen kidney cancer organizations and has represented kidney cancer patients on panels for the Kidney Cancer Association (KCA), the National Cancer Institute and the FDA. In 2017, she was appointed the first renal cancer patient advocate for SWOG Cancer Research Network, a global cancer research community that designs and conducts publicly funded clinical trials. She is also a member of KCA’s Patient & Advisory Council and reviews grant applications for cancer-related research for the Department of Defense.

“We can’t keep up with her,” her [eldest] daughter Lilla says. “Every time we talk to her, she’s speaking for a different foundation and going on all these trips. It is pretty remarkable.”

Read the full article at Cancer Today.

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