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Multidisciplinary Approach Helps Dan Dolphin Fight Back Against Kidney Cancer

Second opinion led to exceptional and individualized care for cancer recurrence

A Multidisciplinary Approach Helps Dan Dolphin Fight Back Against Kidney Cancer

When Dan Dolphin woke up one morning with terrible back pain, he feared the worst. As a survivor of papillary kidney cancer who had undergone a nephrectomy less than a year before, he was concerned that his cancer had returned.

His worst fears were confirmed after his orthopedic doctor ordered a bone scan – his kidney cancer had recurred and spread (metastasized) to his bones.

Seeking a second opinion for kidney cancer

Even though Dolphin was happy with his nephrectomy at another institution, he wasn’t completely satisfied with the follow-up care he received.

So when it was confirmed that his cancer had returned, he spoke to close friends for advice on where to go for a second opinion.

“I asked a trusted friend if I should go to Philadelphia to get a second opinion. I’ll never forget him telling me that the physicians at LVHN would match up against anybody in the country. He was absolutely right,” says Dolphin.

He was set up for an initial appointment with oncologist Suresh Nair, MD, Physician in Chief, Lehigh Valley Topper Cancer Institute. From the first time they met, he knew he was in good hands.

“Once I got to Lehigh Valley Topper Cancer Institute and met with Dr. Nair, I felt very comfortable with him. He explained everything to me, had already reviewed the results of my tests and even showed me on my scans exactly where my tumors were,” says Dolphin.

In addition to meeting Nair at his first appointment, Dolphin was introduced to two other clinicians who also would be part of his care team – advanced practice clinician Lauren Demberger, PA-C, with LVH Hematology Oncology, and radiation oncologist Alyson McIntosh, MD, with Allentown Radiation Oncology Associates.

“I was impressed with how much my care team worked together from the very beginning,” says Dolphin. “Their multidisciplinary approach made me feel confident that I would receive the best treatment available.”

His care team created a treatment plan specifically tailored to his diagnosis, which included stereotactic body radiation therapy (a precise form of radiation therapy that targets cancerous tumors while reducing damage to surrounding tissue) delivered in conjunction with immunotherapy. This specific approach was something that Nair and McIntosh were very familiar with as part of the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Alliance (MSK Cancer Alliance).

“The foundations of Dan’s treatment plan were based on findings from several clinical trials that we've done with MSK,” says Nair. “We found that when you deliver precise radiation with certain immunotherapy agents, it elicits a positive response.”

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An important goal for kidney cancer treatment

It was important for Dolphin that his treatments didn’t affect his ability to work as a boy’s lacrosse coach and physical education and health teacher for Allentown Central Catholic High School. He had a good feeling about the 2021 season and wanted to make sure he coached his team to the best of his ability.

Nair and McIntosh kept this goal in mind throughout Dolphin’s treatments, and luckily, it paid off.

Not experiencing side effects from his treatments, Dolphin led his lacrosse team to win the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association championship in June 2021 – just a month after a scan showed that his treatments had been very effective.

“Realizing my team had won the state championship was such an exhilarating feeling. It was the last 10 or 15 seconds of the game when it was quite obvious we were going to win, and it was like everything was moving in slow motion,” says Dolphin. “I had been through a lot over the past year, but I was able to overcome it with the support of my family, colleagues and cancer care team.”

Fighting back against kidney cancer

Days after the championship game, Dolphin announced his retirement. Now, he’s looking forward to spending time with his wife, Sue, and their two sons, Joshua and Tyler.

He is still receiving additional treatment at Lehigh Valley Topper Cancer Institute and will continue to be followed closely for many years to come. Even though his cancer journey isn’t over, he feels confident in his care team and the next steps.

“I see a lot of similarities between my care team and the kids that were on my lacrosse team,” says Dolphin. “My doctors are leaders in the field, and they’re very motivated. I couldn't be more pleased with the treatment I've received.”

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