The Kidney Cancer Association presented the inaugural “Kidney Cancer Association Nicholas J. Vogelzang Humanitarian Award” to the KCA’s late co-founder and long-serving board member, Dr. Nicholas J. Vogelzang.
Vogelzang, a world-renowned genitourinary oncologist specializing in rare cancer types, died on September 20, 2022 at age 72 following an illness that led him to retire from medical practice and seek hospice care. He previously stepped down from the KCA’s Board of Directors in February 2022.
Vogelzang’s wife, Diane Vogelzang, accepted the award on her husband’s behalf during a ceremony at the KCA’s 2022 International Kidney Cancer Symposium (IKCS): North America held on November 4-5 in Austin, Texas.
“Improved outcomes for his patients drove him every single day,” Diane said. Recalling a conversation with him not long before his death, Diane said Vogelzang came to realize “[his] legacy wasn’t in the boxes they packed for me. It’s in the people.”
The KCA’s new humanitarian award recognizes an individual who has made great impact in highlighting kidney cancer advocacy as well as strides to raise awareness and resources to advance kidney cancer treatment and patient care.
While practicing at the University of Chicago in the 1980s, where he developed a reputation for treating kidney cancer patients, Vogelzang realized his patients could benefit from meeting others with kidney cancer diagnoses. At the time, aside from surgery, there were no treatments for kidney cancer and a diagnosis meant facing a limited future.
Vogelzang began hosting informal gatherings of patients, families, and healthcare professionals at the hospital. Eventually, he met kidney cancer patient Eugene P. Schonfeld, and together in 1990 formed what would become the Kidney Cancer Association around Vogelzang’s kitchen table.
“Nick was an extraordinary example of the beautiful difference one life can make,” said Gretchen E. Vaughan, KCA’s President and CEO. “He saw a need and co-founded the Kidney Cancer Association when people had no resources in the kidney space. Such an incredible doctor but, more importantly, the kindest man, biggest heart, and gentlest soul. We are all better for knowing him.”
In addition to steering the organization’s mission and vision, Vogelzang was part of multiple KCA committees, councils, and working groups that brought key resources to the community including the KCA’s Just Diagnosed Toolkit, which walks patients and providers through the crucial first phases of diagnosis and treatment, and the Patient Navigator Program, which provides one-on-one support to those impacted by kidney cancer. He has participated in the KCA’s International Kidney Cancer Symposiums and received the KCA’s Eugene P. Schonfeld Award in 2010 in recognition of his accomplishments and advocacy.
“Nick was truly a giant in GU Medical Oncology. He distinguished himself by always going above and beyond for his patients and colleagues with compassion and seemingly endless energy and enthusiasm,” said Dr. Bradley C. Leibovich, Chair of the KCA’s Board of Directors and a urologic oncologist at the Mayo Clinic.
“When you consider all the patients he cared for over the years, physicians he taught, and the impact of founding the KCA with Gene Schonfeld, among many other major accomplishments in oncology, it is clear that he will have a perpetual impact on improving the lives of our patients.”
Vogelzang was the first Fred C. Buffet Professor of GU Oncology at the University of Chicago, developed the GU Oncology Program there, and directed the University of Chicago’s Cancer Research Center from 1999-2003. He then became director of the Nevada Cancer Institute and practiced at the Comprehensive Cancer Centers of Nevada in Las Vegas, where he chaired medical oncology until his retirement.
A number of Vogelzang’s colleagues shared comments about his medical prowess, his collegial nature, and his gift for mentorship:
“I got to know Nick when I joined the KCA’s board back in 2000. He was very helpful in choosing which direction the KCA was taking and how we should manage the Association; how we would be able to grow it. I recommended a couple of patients to him in the last few years. He was a great director, very easy to get to know, and I have a lot of respect for him.”
– William Perry, kidney cancer patient and member of the KCA’s Board of Directors from 2000-2001
“Nick Vogelzang is one of those eternally optimistic forces in oncology, who always made time to support young faculty. I remember meeting him for the first time at a [cancer] meeting and the time he took to talk with me, a medical Instructor at the time from another institution. One of the nicest things I have ever been told by someone is that I remind them of Nick Vogelzang. I really hope to live up to that compliment someday.”
– Dr. Daniel George, Chair of the KCA’s Medical Steering Committee and a medical oncologist at Duke University
“Nick Vogelzang will always be remembered by me not only for his contributions to renal cancer research and care, but as a consummate physician, mentor, and friend. I will never forget his ability to simply connect with patients in a manner that would inspire hope. But he never used this skill for anything except to help the patient in their fight, and to advocate what was in their best interests. It is in this vein, that he helped found the KCA, an organization dedicated to patients, by patients, and for patients that from its very inception was focused on supporting not only kidney cancer patients, but also their caregivers, their healthcare team, and the researchers who were searching for better approaches. I became a GU oncologist because of Nick’s influence, and only hope that a modicum of his skills has rubbed off on me.”
– Dr. Walter Stadler, emeritus member of the KCA’s Medical Steering Committee and a urologic oncologist at the University of Chicago
“Nick was the reason I went into GU Oncology. His energy, charisma and staunch patient advocacy drew me to him and this specialty. He has arguably had the greatest impact on kidney cancer of anyone, considering his academic accomplishments, mentoring and co-founding of KCA. Many renal cell carcinoma (RCC) researchers, including myself, owe our success in RCC and contributions in patient care to Nick. I spoke with Nick on the phone recently and promised him we would keep fighting for better treatments for RCC.”
– Dr. Brian Rini, member of the KCA’s Medical Steering Committee and Professor of Medicine at the Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center
Vogelzang spoke often about the importance of putting key resources into the hands of patients and providers alike, knowing that they must work together to solve problems. His work with the KCA to put these ideas into practice was a natural extension of his clinical practice and his personal values.
“My dad was a pastor and my mom a teacher, so service to others was a big part of my family. Church was a big part of our lives, academic excellence was strongly emphasized, and curiosity was always encouraged. My siblings and I share a deep commitment to service to others,” Vogelzang said, prior to his retirement from the KCA’s Board of Directors. “I have great pride in what the KCA has accomplished thus far and, though I know our important work is not over, I have great hope for the future. The KCA will remain a trusted resource that I’ll continue to share with my own patients and fellow medical professionals, and it will always hold a special place in my heart.”
The KCA will award the Nicholas J. Vogelzang Humanitarian Award annually at the IKCS: North America meetings each November.
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