Aggressive cancer calls for a determined surgeon

Men are less likely than women to see their primary care physician for preventive care. This holds true for Dover resident and retired Air Force Master Sergeant Kelly Reidy.

When Reidy’s wife passed away from cancer in 2012, one of her final requests was for Reidy to be proactive about his health and to schedule necessary physicals. Fulfilling his wife’s wish, Reidy scheduled an appointment with his primary care physician who encouraged him to also get a colonoscopy.

A colonoscopy is a test that allows a doctor to examine the inner lining of the large intestine and look for possible ulcers, polyps, tumors, and areas of inflammation or bleeding.

Reidy’s colonoscopy showed a tumor in the large intestine, but was inconclusive if it was cancerous. He was referred to Assar Rather, MD, with Bayhealth General and Colorectal Surgery, who obtained three biopsies under general anesthesia.

The diagnosis: stage three rectal cancer. Dr. Rather discussed the results and treatment plan with Reidy. “Dr. Rather said I would need surgery and offered to show me photos to explain the process, but I didn’t need to see,” Reidy said. “He explained everything so well that I didn’t need pictures. I was confident I was in good hands with Dr. Rather.”

Treating rectal cancer requires specialized care that is not available everywhere. “Bayhealth offers local advanced rectal cancer care including minimally invasive surgery close to home, which is great for patients,” said Dr. Rather. “It requires coordination between surgeons, medical oncologists, and radiation oncologists, and we all have to be in sync to treat the patient the right way.”

Dr. Rather said the team of Bayhealth physicians trained to treat rectal cancer meets at regular conferences to discuss patient cases to allow for the best possible outcomes.

Before the surgery, Reidy had to undergo chemotherapy and radiation treatments. Reidy’s surgery to remove the tumor was in July 2013. The operation took about four hours. Three feet of Reidy’s intestine and his rectum was removed. 

“When I woke up, Dr. Rather was there and said, ‘We got it!’ It was such a relief to hear him say that. He stayed to help me get up, move and walk around,” Reidy said.

Following surgery, Reidy had to continue chemotherapy and radiation once a week for four months. Dr. Rather said Reidy has a permanent colostomy bag in place of his rectum. “In some cases the colostomy is not required or is temporary, but in this case the cancer had significantly spread and a permanent one was necessary,” Dr. Rather said. “He is able to live a relatively normal life with the colostomy bag.”

It has been more than three years since Reidy completed his cancer treatment. He said he has follow-up appointments every six months and the results have continuously come back cancer-free. “I am not completely out of the woods yet,” he said. “Five years cancer-free is the target for any cancer patient — that’s when I can really say, ‘I beat it!’”

Reidy is thankful to Dr. Rather and his team, and advocates for his family and friends to schedule colonoscopies. “The cancer had spread so much, it was almost to my liver. That would have been it,” he said. “Dr. Rather and the team involved in my treatment saved my life; those people are now my best friends.”

It’s recommended that men and women over the age of 50 schedule a colonoscopy. To find a physician to fit your needs, call 1-866-BAY-DOCS to learn about providers in your area.

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