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MedWatch Today: Whipple procedure saves colon cancer patient’s life

Med Watch Today

This past February, Fresno resident Tony Atkins was diagnosed with stage four colon cancer. The cancer had begun to spread to his other organs, and something had to be done fast. Tony not only had half of his colon removed, but he also underwent a procedure called a Whipple, where multiple organs in his gastrointestinal tract were cut and re-attached. It’s an extremely complex surgery, but one that saved his life.

Tony had been feeling like something was wrong for a while. He didn’t have as much energy as he normally did.

“I’m working, I’m doing ski patrol at China Peak, and it was more difficult for me to patrol a second day. I was more tired that second day, it seemed to take more energy to do what I was doing,” said Tony.

His wife urged him to get blood work and tests done. And when he did, a large mass was found in his intestines.

He stated, “They did the biopsy on a Wednesday, and on Friday, Dr. Chaudhary called me and said that you have cancer.”

Tony’s gut instinct that something was off, hit him hard.

He cried, “I already knew that I had cancer, so I was just confirming. I’m sorry, but I knew that, and so I was prepared for that moment, you know?”

Tony was referred to Dr. Amir Fathi, the Director of Hepato-Pancreato-Biliary Surgery at Community Regional Medical Center. Dr. Fathi ran more tests on Tony and determined he had stage four colon cancer.

“The cancer is extensively advanced locally, meaning that it came of the primary organ which was the colon and invaded into the other organs, such as head of the pancreas, bottom of the stomach, and the first part of the bowel, which is the duodenum,” stated Dr. Fathi.

Dr. Fathi said Tony was the perfect candidate for the Whipple procedure. He continued, “It’s a surgery that removes the head of the pancreas, the first part of the small intestine, the gallbladder and the bile duct, all with the goal to remove as much cancer as possible… During the last couple decades, we’ve learned a lot about colon cancer. We’ve learned that despite being a stage four, despite being a stage three, despite leaving the primary organ and invading to the local structures, or even farther, to an organ like liver, we can go after the cancer, we can cut whatever is there, give the chemotherapy and get phenomenal survival results.”

The Whipple procedure is difficult and demanding, but Dr. Fathi calls it the “cadillac” of surgeries. And, in addition to the Whipple, Dr. Fathi removed half of Tony’s colon and rerouted his entire gastrointestinal tract. Tony was on the operating table for about eight hours.

“In colorectal cancer we know that the more tumor that we get out, the better it is. So my goal was to cut as much as I can,” said Dr. Fathi.

Tony commented, “You know, they were very positive, I’m a positive person. I feel like my best days are still ahead of me, so I wasn’t prepared to quit.”

Tony’s surgery was in June, and today with supplemental chemotherapy, his scans show no cancer in his body. He said his energy level is back to normal, and he feels optimistic about his future.

Tony ended, “And then I ask myself the question, ‘Why did I survive it? What purpose is there for me? What difference can I make?’ And I’m looking for the opportunity to help somehow to make a difference in the lives of other people that are going to go through the same experience that I have.”

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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