Two tumors, two surgeries, one grateful family

Howard Gellman, who underwent surgeries for lung and kidney cancer, and his wife Janice.

Howard Gellman’s annual medical checkup in February 2010 was uneventful until his wife of 42 years, Janice, suggested a chest X-ray might be in order. Mr. Gellman hadn’t had one in about a decade, she noted, and his doctor agreed that a precautionary test was a sound idea. But the results, which prompted computed tomography (CT) scans, astonished everyone: Mr. Gellman, now 66, had silent, cancerous tumors in both his right lung and left kidney.

“He was never ill, so we knew it was early,” said Ms. Gellman, who lives with her husband in Plainview. “All these things, and he looked wonderful.”

Still, the double diagnosis — both were primary tumors unrelated to each other — prompted a flurry of action from the Gellmans and doctors at North Shore University Hospital. In early March 2010, Louis Kavoussi, MD, chair of urology for North Shore-LIJ Health System, removed Mr. Gellman’s kidney, and Lawrence Glassman, MD, chief of thoracic surgery at North Shore University Hospital, extracted the top lobe of his cancerous lung three weeks later.

Advanced treatments minimize side effects

Dr. Glassman used minimally invasive, thoracoscopic surgical techniques that required only three tiny incisions in Mr. Gellman’s chest wall to remove the lung section and nine nearby lymph nodes. Because biopsies showed the cancer had spread to two of the nodes, his cancer was classified as Stage 3A, requiring several months of chemotherapy and radiation treatments. His kidney tumor, while larger, was more straightforward because it was contained.

“It’s truly a revolution in chest surgery,” Dr. Glassman said. “Internally it’s the same operation we did 10, 20 or 30 years ago, but we don’t have to spread or break the ribs. The patient is not in so much pain and breathes better and may be discharged home much more quickly utilizing the minimally invasive approach.”

Medical oncologist Harry Raftopoulos, MD, of North Shore-LIJ’s Monter Cancer Center, then laid out a regimen of four outpatient chemotherapy treatments, done three weeks apart, followed by daily radiation for six weeks. “Advances in supportive care allow us to deliver the best cancer therapy with little or none of the traditional chemotherapy-associated side effects such as nausea and vomiting,” Dr. Raftopoulos said.

Mr. Gellman didn’t lose his hair and barely suffered any nausea during his chemotherapy, which ended in October 2010. “I guess I’m a really good patient,” he said. “I was tired, but that was it. I really had very few side effects.”

Grandkids and golf as rewards

Now cancer-free, Mr. Gellman receives CT scans about every six months to watch for a recurrence or new tumor growth. “Given the stage of the [lung] cancer, he’s done very well,” Dr. Raftopoulos said. “We got everything going very quickly, and up to this point we’ve done everything possible to make sure he’s cured. He is not out of the woods yet, but the further out we go the better it is.”

Mr. Gellman is thrilled to feel healthy and revels in his time on the golf course as well as with the couple’s grandchildren — including a newborn who arrived in August.

“I play a lot of golf,” he said, quipping, “My biggest handicap is me."

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