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Tony Sundermeier: Hardest lesson was when things didn’t go according to my plan

Tony and the doctor who performed his surgery, Dr. Robert Uzzo.

After one of the busiest times of the year for a member of the clergy, Tony went in for a consult with a urologist in December of 2008 prior to getting a vasectomy. When microscopic traces of blood in his urine were found, the doctor recommended he go ahead with the vasectomy, but to then take an ultrasound, which revealed a large mass (10 cm) and another small one on his kidney.

“It was pretty frightening to be honest,” recalls Tony. “I had no symptoms and was not yet at the age when I should have had any screenings. We had two very young children, and deciding to not have any more actually saved my life.”

Tony consulted with several doctors and admitted that because of his position of associate pastor at a big church outside of Philadelphia and the network that came with it, he had doctors in some of the best hospitals looking at his diagnosis. He ultimately chose a doctor who convinced Tony to go forward with surgery, convincing him that it would get rid of the cancer and save 70 percent of his kidney. 

“He was very decisive,” says Tony. “His confidence bred so much confidence in me. I learned very quickly to trust my instinct of people who trust theirs.”

Looking back on the surgery in February 2009, Tony says the doctor did exactly what he said he was going to do. But his kidney didn’t seal, and his medical team found that urine was leaking into his abdomen.

“The hardest personal learning came to me then,” Tony explains. “When things happen according to plan, even if it hurts, at least you knew what was coming. I was among six percent of patients whose kidneys didn’t seal. Recovering was hard physically, but harder emotionally because this major complication was not expected. I had a plan, and things didn’t go according to my plan.”

But Tony did recover. He is a cancer survivor, and he now realizes that it was during those hardest times that he grew spiritually.

“I would pray for healing, of course,” he says. “But eventually I really just started praying for more of God’s presence in my life, and I received it. 

“I lost my father to cancer at a young age. I certainly grew spiritually then. But I didn’t grow as much as when I went through my own cancer journey.”

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