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The following is an excerpt from a blog post by Laura Esfeller, a marketing professional living in California with kidney cancer. Laura writes at singlewhitekidney.


Dr. Nicholas J. Vogelzang

I received a letter today that I knew was coming, but I’m not going to lie – it still hurts reading it.

My beloved oncologist – Dr. Nicholas Vogelzang* – has retired after over 40 years of practice for medical reasons.

Dr. Vogelzang has been more than a doctor to me. I showed up in his office six years ago a physically, spiritually and emotionally broken shell of myself. My UCLA oncologist had given me the news that despite the hellacious surgery, the cancer had continued to spread and I was in Deep Trouble. He didn’t have much to offer other than standard care for clear cell renal cell carcinoma (not what I had) and the recommendation to see Dr. Vogelzang since he was in Las Vegas, Nevada and he was involved in clinical trials. “I would send my own family to see him,” he said. My UCLA oncologist didn’t explain my diagnosis very well other than that I had “2 types” of RCC and that I needed to start some form of treatment ASAP.

I went home and read my biopsy report that said my type of RCC was associated with “frequent metastases and poor prognosis,” and I crumpled to the bedroom floor. After my own anxiety-fueled Google search confirmed what I was reading in my scan reports: that I had a year left at best given the significant spread and the aggressiveness which it was spreading — I wondered if it was even worth it to see Dr. Vogelzang.

So a few weeks later, there I sat in his office, scared and defeated, wondering why I was even bothering, when Dr. Vogelzang strolled in and gave me his signature warm smile. He sat down and leaned close while he calmly answered every question thoroughly, explained the nuances of my disease, and laid out all my options.

“I will even give you chemo if I have to, if everything else fails, to prolong your life. You’re just so young.”

I found out later he had kids who were roughly my age.

Throughout it all, he assured me we were a team. He promised me when I was trying to decide if I wanted to join the first clinical trial he presented me that if it showed it wasn’t working, he would pull me off immediately, research be damned. I didn’t know if our gamble would pay off, but I immediately trusted Dr. Vogelzang. If he said this clinical trial was my best shot, then it was my best shot as far as I was concerned. From that very first appointment, I walked out with the faint tickle of hope in the pit of my stomach again. I was overwhelmed, I was scared, but I knew he would do everything and anything he could. He shared with me his own cancer story. “I’ll never ask you to do anything I haven’t done or wouldn’t do myself,” he said to me one day, and I knew he meant it.

My weeks were filled with appointment after appointment with him. I was at his office weekly, then biweekly for those first few months. That December, I had my first scan since starting cabozantanib and we held our breath. I’ll never forget the look on his face when he came striding into the exam room a few days later. “Eighty percent!” he shouted victoriously as he pumped his fist in the air. “80 percent?!?”, my husband Patrick and I said in disbelief. “Eighty percent reduction in your tumor burden!! It’s working!” he bellowed. I couldn’t get out of the chair fast enough to hug him.

There are many wonderful RCC specialists. I am fortunate to live where the best of the best medical care is in my backyard, which is why many didn’t understand why I continued driving back and forth to Vegas to see Dr. Vogelzang.

But there is only one Dr. Vogelzang.

Read the full post at singlewhitekidney.


*Dr. Nicholas J. Vogelzang is a co-founder of the Kidney Cancer Association and an emeritus member of its Board of Directors. He recently retired as a medical oncologist at the Cancer Care Centers of America in Las Vegas, Nevada.

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