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Published on July 22, 2014

Cover story

New Choices, Better Outcomes With Robotic-Assisted Surgery

One evening last August, Richard Granger, 62, had finished work and was heading home to Woodbury. A driver for a local metal fabricating company, he had made his last delivery and was looking forward to having dinner with his wife, Debbie, and granddaughter, Allison, who was visiting from Claremont, NH. After dinner, they watched the Red Sox game on TV. It seemed like an ordinary day. Richard had no idea he was about to be diagnosed with Stage III colon cancer.

Later that night, he made three trips to the bathroom. Each time was the same. He saw blood. So much blood, he felt faint. That’s when his wife called 911.

A doctor in a local emergency department misdiagnosed the cause of the bleeding as a fissure but recommended that Richard have a colonoscopy. Two days later, when the screening was performed, Dr. Anthony Schore found two polyps in Richard’s colon. The smaller one, which was about 10 millimeters, was benign. But the larger polyp, which was 5 centimeters, proved to be cancer.

Looking back, Richard knew he was at risk of developing colon cancer. He smoked for 45 years and loved to eat red meat. He also had a family history. His sister, Mary Ellen, who is 11 years younger, was diagnosed with a cancerous polyp in her colon. Her doctors detected it early during a routine colonoscopy and removed it. She is now cancer-free, Richard said.

At the time, Mary Ellen encouraged him to get screened, but he was not keen on having a colonoscopy.

“I had put it off,” he said. “I think half of it was embarrassment, but since this has happened, I’ve been telling everybody: Get it done.”

DISCOVERED EARLY, HIGHLY TREATABLE

According to the Colon Cancer Alliance, colon cancer is the third most commonly diagnosed cancer and the second leading cause of cancer death in men and women combined in the United States.

The American Cancer Society estimates 136,830 people will be diagnosed in 2014, and 50,310 will die from colon cancer in the United States. “Colon cancer, when discovered early, is highly treatable. Even if it spreads into nearby lymph nodes, surgical treatment followed by chemotherapy is highly successful,” the Colon Cancer Alliance reports.

That was the course of treatment recommended by Dr. J. Alexander Palesty, a general surgeon and surgical oncologist with Saint Mary’s Hospital who specializes in robotic-assisted and minimally invasive procedures. Dr. Palesty also indicated that Richard would be a good candidate for roboticassisted colon surgery.

“He reviewed everything that was going on and he suggested that we do it this way,” Richard recalled. “He said the cancer had to come out. I agreed with him.”

Robotic-assisted surgery has evolved to treat a growing number of cancerous and non-cancerous conditions. Saint Mary’s Hospital is one of just a few hospitals in Connecticut to offer robotic-assisted procedures for the treatment of colon cancer, including robotic-assisted colectomy and low pelvic rectal surgery.

“The advantages for patients include precise removal of cancerous tissue, minimal scarring, minimal pain, low blood loss, faster recovery, shorter hospital stays, and higher patient satisfaction,” Dr. Palesty said. “For the surgeon, robotic-assisted surgery allows for greater dexterity, enhanced visibility and exact movements of the instruments. The robot’s ‘hands’ have a high degree of dexterity, allowing surgeons the ability to operate in very tight spaces in the body that would otherwise be accessible only through open surgery, which requires long incisions.”

Richard’s surgery required the removal of 27 centimeters of his colon. He stayed in the hospital for five days and required little pain medication. Once he returned home, he required no medication at all.

“I didn’t have a lot of pain,” he said. “The scars are very, very small. I had five little Xs around my stomach and then a three-inch incision in the middle of my stomach. That was it.”

As the cancer had spread to a few lymph nodes, Richard began receiving chemotherapy treatments in November at the Harold Leever Regional Cancer Center under the watchful eye of Dr. Anamika Katoch. He completed his treatment in early April. By May, he was feeling much better. He had recently returned from a trip to his hometown of Claremont and had been to Maine to visit his daughter and stepdaughter. He and Debbie have been married 21 years and have four children and five grandchildren.

Asked about his experience at Saint Mary’s, Richard said, “It was excellent. They were very attentive. I’ve had a very positive experience.”

Throughout his treatment, Richard continued to encourage relatives and coworkers to make an appointment and get screened.

“Get there,” he said. “When you turn 50, go. This probably could have been stopped if I had gone for a colonoscopy when I turned 50.”

To learn more about robotic-assisted surgery at Saint Mary's, visit the Robotic-Assisted Surgery page. 

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