Patient Stories

Technology and the Human Touch Team Up Against Rare Kidney Cancer

Minimally invasive robotic surgery restores life to normal

For 47-year-old Patrizia Sicuranza, the expectation she had just another kidney stone was quickly replaced by a diagnosis of a rare disease: transitional cell cancer in the renal pelvis.

Now she counts six small scars among her blessings. They are the fading marks of a minimally invasive robotic surgery called a radical nephroureterectomy last November to remove her right kidney, the renal pelvis and ureter. The largest souvenir is a 2-inch scar below her belly button.

“They are disappearing. And I feel good, just the same as ever,” the Napoli-born Sicuranza said after her work shift. She’s a server in her sister’s Italian restaurant in Lakewood.

In August 2015, Sicuranza saw her primary care physician and then urology surgeon Diane Hartman, MD, after finding blood in her urine. A CT scan found the presence of a cancerous lesion in her renal pelvis, the enlarged upper end of the ureter, the tube that carries urine from the kidney to the bladder. The funnel-shaped renal pelvis collects the urine produced by the kidney before it flows to the bladder.

It’s not a common cancer in women or people her age, Sicuranza says, but she was a smoker — a risk factor.

But thankfully, she says, she had Dr. Hartman on her side. Dr. Hartman skillfully performed a robotic radical nephroureterectomy on Sicuranza to remove the cancer. But just as important as the surgery’s success was Dr. Hartman’s compassion, which helped ease Sicuranza’s anxiety.

“I love Dr. Hartman,” she says. “I was treated like I was her daughter.”

Because of the physical nature of her work at the family restaurant, Sicuranza missed about a month of work during her recovery. Yet the postoperative pain faded quickly and her post-surgical care with Hartman has been thorough and caring, Sicuranza says.