Rowan native beats the odds in beating cancer
Editor’s note: The following story about former Rowan County resident Ronnie Kluttz is reprinted with permission from the Kernersville News.
In his 40 years working for the postal service, Kernersville resident Ronnie Kluttz wasn’t sick a single day. So when he retired in June 2007, the last thing he expected was to be diagnosed with a brain tumor and kidney cancer.
“I was basically healthy and looking forward to retirement, playing a little golf and spending more time with my family,” said Kluttz. “But one weekend I was playing golf and started limping. I thought I had pulled a muscle and just kept playing, but it didn’t get any better, so I went to the doctor.”
Dr. Charles Record at Kernersville Family Practice was the first to realize Kluttz had more than a pulled muscle.
“He was a patient of my father’s for years so when Dad retired, I was very pleased that Ronnie continued to trust me with his care,” Record said. “The weakness in his leg he was exhibiting could easily be mistaken as a sprain, but there were other symptoms that indicated something else was going on.”
Record sent Kluttz for an MRI scan that revealed an advanced brain tumor on Kluttz’s frontal lobe.
“When Dr. Record received the results of the test, he said he didn’t know an easy way to tell me but I had a massive brain tumor that had to be taken care of immediately,” said Kluttz.
That afternoon, Kluttz checked into Forsyth Medical Center (FMC), and two days later neurosurgeon Dr. William Bell performed surgery to remove the tumor.
“Everything was going so fast, but the fluid was increasing in my head, so they needed to do something quickly before it affected other parts of my brain,” said Kluttz.
While in the hospital, doctors determined that Kluttz’s tumor was the result of a renal cell carcinoma, a type of kidney cancer that had been undetected and spread to his brain.
Renal cell carcinoma is the most common type of kidney cancer in adults. It affects about three in 10,000 people in the United States each year. It is more common in men than women, usually affecting men older than 55.
In Kluttz’s case, the cancer in his kidney had spread to his brain, causing the weakness in his leg and his limp.
“Unless you are looking for it, this type of kidney cancer is difficult to detect and is often discovered because it has affected another part of the body,” said Dr. Eugene Paschold, an oncologist at the Derrick L. Davis Forsyth Regional Cancer Center at FMC. “In Ronnie’s case, the muscle weakness from the brain tumor was the warning sign that presented itself.”
The survival rate for renal cell carcinoma is 60-70 percent when the cancer is confined to the kidney, but this rate falls considerably when the cancer has spread to other parts of the body. Once it spreads, it is also more resistant to conventional cancer treatments that use radiation and chemotherapy.
Following surgery to remove Kluttz’s kidney, Paschold recommended he undergo a more aggressive treatment using Interleukin 2, a hormone-like molecule that stimulates the body’s natural immune system.
“It was the only treatment that had shown it could fight my kind of cancer,” said Kluttz. “It is very intensive, and you have to be in pretty good physical health to be accepted for this treatment. The hardest part was getting to know other folks taking the same treatment who did not have the results I did.”
During this same period, Kluttz was also undergoing physical therapy at the Martinat Outpatient Rehabilitation Center in Kernersville to regain the use of his right arm and right leg, which were affected during the removal of his brain tumor.
“Just undergoing brain surgery and chemo treatment for cancer would have been more than most people could manage,” said Mary Fraley, a physical therapist at Martinat’s Kernersville facility. “But to add a regimen of physical rehab on top of the other treatments was a real test of Mr. Kluttz’s strength and character.”
“Having treatments for cancer and rehab at the same time pretty much wore me out,” Kluttz said. “But with the help of the therapists, I have my shoulder and elbow back working, my fingers are coming along and I’ve got about 90 percent use of my leg. It’s taken a while but they told me it would because it takes time to train the nerves to reconnect with the brain.”
Kluttz’s battle with cancer, which began in December 2007 with brain surgery, followed by weeks of radiation treatment, the removal of his kidney, followed by chemotherapy, all while undergoing extensive physical rehabilitation, has been an ordeal for his family.
“My wife (Nancy) was right there with me. I couldn’t have made it without her,” he said. “It was rough on her too, because she had to do everything for me. But my family, my daughter and son, they’ve been behind me and pushing me. It’s been tough, but they had faith in me. I also had a lot of people praying for me.”
Today, Kluttz is doing well. His most recent scan has not detected any new cancer, a treatment success rate that only occurs in 3-5 percent of those who have similar conditions.
“Ronnie has beaten enormous odds,” said Paschold. “I am convinced that his tremendous determination and great support system helped a lot.”
Kluttz has also agreed with his doctors to share his Interleukin 2 treatment experience with others who have similar cancers that can’t be treated using more conventional methods.
“I tell folks like it is,” he said. “It’s extremely tough, but it’s the only one that has a chance to eliminate this type of cancer.”
Kluttz said that during his treatment all the doctors and therapists have been very knowledgeable and congenial and are part of the reason he has made it through.
“I’ve been blessed to get through this with as few side effects as I’ve had,” he says. “I beat the odds that most people don’t. We have a lot of faith in our doctors, particularly Dr. Record, who I think saved my life by knowing what to do. But it’s also been a miracle to get through it.”
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Kluttz, son of the late Jesse and Bertha Kluttz, is a 1966 graduate of West Rowan High School.