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Russ's Kidney Cancer Story

by Russell Williamson

Sitting on horseback surrounded by the Colorado mountains, Russell Williamson, 50, of Cogan Station, realized, at that moment, he had planned the perfect vacation. During his 16-day trip out West, he walked 6 to 7 miles a day with a friend to hunt and kill a bull elk, before spending a few days herding stray cattle.

It’s hard to believe that just five months earlier, an ATV accident had put Russell on the course for this trip of a lifetime.

AN UNEXPECTED DIAGNOSIS

In May 2014, Russell and his wife, Cindy, were in the emergency room at Williamsport Regional Medical Center to check Russell’s ribs following an ATV accident. They were stunned when the CT scan revealed a mass on his left kidney that needed further investigation.

Russell’s family physician, Dr. Russell Gombosi, ordered an MRI and referred him to Dr. Christopher Reilly, who specializes in urologic surgery. “Dr. Gombosi told me that’s who he would see, and that’s all I needed to hear,” says Russell.

Around the time of Russell’s own medical concerns, his mother had been battling stage 4 lung cancer. Her condition declined quickly. And two days after her passing, Russell’s cancer diagnosis was confirmed.

Dr. Reilly quickly reassured Russell that he had a good prognosis because his cancer was detected early. There are no screening tests for kidney cancer, so it often progresses for years with no warning signs until it spreads to other parts of the body and is much more difficult to treat. As it turns out, Russell’s accident was actually a stroke of luck.

PLANNING FOR SURGERY

Dr. Reilly planned a robotic-assisted partial nephrectomy, or kidney-sparing surgery, at Williamsport Regional Medical Center. “We like to save kidney function if we can,” says Dr. Reilly, regarding the decision of a partial nephrectomy.

Dr. Reilly routinely uses Susquehanna Health’s da Vinci® Surgical System to treat kidney, bladder and prostate cancer. The minimally invasive approach with robotic assistance allows greater proficiency and precision for the surgeon, while patients typically experience less pain, bleeding and scarring and have a quicker recovery time.

“My specialty interest is minimally invasive surgical techniques,” explains Dr. Reilly, who was trained to use robotic procedures during a one-year fellowship at Temple University. “Knowing that robotic technology has the power to give even better care to my patients, I wanted to learn it from one of the best in the field. It’s important to me to be able to offer the best treatment options available to my patients.”

Dr. Reilly and his staff were extremely caring and responded to Russell and Cindy’s questions and concerns. “Dr. Reilly is not just a doctor; he’s very personal and takes his time to explain everything to you,” says Russell. “He put my family at ease and we were confident that everything would be OK.”

A FASTER RECOVERY

Operating through multiple keyhole-sized incisions along Russell’s side and belly button, Dr. Reilly removed the one-inch tumor, which was in a complicated location, and reconstructed Russell’s kidney. This minimally invasive robotic-assisted procedure makes recovery much easier and faster than the traditional approach through an open incision across the abdomen. The large incision is typically painful and can require partial removal of a rib, leaving the abdomen slightly distorted.

Patients having the traditional, open approach typically spend up to a week in the hospital and are not fully recovered for several months. Russell was able to go home the next day, was back to normal activities within a week and could resume more strenuous activities in just four to six weeks.

Intense follow-up is required for the first year to assure good kidney function and that the tumor doesn’t return or show up elsewhere. Russell says he felt fortunate to be well-recovered and prepared for the physical demands of his trek out West.

“When you go through something like this, you don’t want to put things off,” says Russell. “I’m feeling wonderful, and to be able to take this trip of a lifetime was great. It was the perfect way to cap off the year.”

- Russell Williamson, Cogan Station