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One night in 2000, a decade before he became a Congressman, Tom Marino found himself writhing in pain as a colleague in the Lycoming County, Pa., district attorney’s office rushed him to the hospital.
He thought it was his appendix. The Pennsylvania Republican would soon find out he had kidney cancer.
“First thing I thought about was my children. Who is going to take care of them?” Marino remembered. “How will my wife handle all of this? She stays at home and I earn enough money for all of us. It was a tough time.”
Up to that point in his life, Marino was known for his perseverance. After working in a bakery, he was overlooked for a promotion because he didn’t have a degree. So at age 30 he quit and decided to go to college, then continued on to law school.
At the age of 35 he began practicing law, eventually winning election as district attorney and appointment as U.S. attorney in President George W. Bush’s administration, before returning to private practice.
While serving as district attorney, his cancer was treated surgically through a partial nephrectomy procedure. It a surgery that is labeled as minimally invasive and targets the diseased part of the kidney, saving the healthy part.
Throughout the ordeal, Edie Marino stayed by her husband’s side.
It was a trying time — perhaps the most difficult part was telling his parents, said Marino, who later lost his father to colon cancer.
The surgery was a success, though, and he returned to his job as a prosecuting attorney.
Nine years later, Marino discovered that the disease had returned. This time it cost him his entire left kidney.
“The first time I was diagnosed it felt like those stages they always say you go through; scared, angry, sad and then you realize you deal with it the best way you can,” Marino said. “The second time I got really angry because I don’t smoke, I don’t drink and I exercise. It really pissed me off.”
And this time, his kids were at an age where they could comprehend what their father was going through.
“It’s times like these when you find yourself beginning to say things like, ‘Okay God, let’s make a deal here and fulfill that deal.’”
He went under the knife again.
Within a year, Marino had declared his candidacy for Congress, eventually unseating incumbent Democrat Christopher Carney.
Marino continues to go for check-ups twice a year and exercises on a daily basis. And he tries to maintain a philosophical outlook.
“You learn to deal with it. There is always someone out there much worse off than you. I had good friends, a good family and my daughter [who has cystic fibrosis] doesn’t give up and is strong,” Marino said. “So dad better suck it up.”
Apart from his Congressional duties, which include serving as co-chairman of the Congressional Kidney Caucus, Marino has become a spokesman for the American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life and promotes funding research to find a cure.
“Would I rather have not had cancer? Of course. But it changed my life for the better because of my family and those that supported me,” Marino said.
He laughed as he described a moment during his recovery — when he had not quite regained full coherence — in which his children asked him if they could keep a cat they had found. Marino has no recollection of the incident, but he came home to a cat nonetheless.