“I’m the poster child of what not to do.” Westbury resident Ken Raikowski on failing to undergo a colonoscopy screening until it was almost too late. Thanks to a multidisciplinary team at NYU Winthrop Hospital’s Cancer for Cancer Care, Ken’s now healthier than ever.
Ken Raikowski says he was always a “macho guy” who thought he didn’t need doctors. “I didn’t go to the doctor for more than 40 years, from my twenties to my sixties.”
Then in the summer of 2016, he suddenly didn’t feel well, waking up sluggish and in a cold sweat. He was soon in the office of a general practitioner who, upon feeling Ken’s abdomen, immediately ordered a CT scan and upon reviewing it, told Ken to quickly see a gastroenterologist. That’s when things went from bad to worse.
For the first time ever, at the age of 65, Ken was to have a colonoscopy. In truth, he should have undergone one upon turning 50, the recommended age for a man’s first colorectal screening for cancer. In preparation for the procedure, Ken guzzled down the requisite gallon of laxative drink, but what he didn’t know was that a growth in his abdomen was now blocking his intestines. The fluid became dangerously obstructed, swelling in Ken’s abdomen.
Ken was sped to the emergency room of NYU Winthrop Hospital. Before he knew it, a multidisciplinary team of NYU Winthrop surgical oncologists began a lengthy operation to save Ken’s life because, as it turns out, Ken didn’t just have a blocked intestine – he also had colon cancer that had spread to his bladder, his medical issues having morphed in complexity.
“A multidisciplinary approach was key to eradicating Ken’s cancer,” explained Megan Winner, MD, the surgical oncologist who oversaw Ken Raikowski’s case. “It is rare to have a patient with a single problem that requires a single doctor. The treatment of cancer, in particular, has become increasingly complex because of advancements in treatment options, and it is a complex equation knowing how to apply exactly the right treatment at the right time.”
Some of the members of Ken Raikowski’s care team included (l.-r.) Prashanti Atluri, MD, Megan Winner, MD, and Anthony Corcoran, MD.
Dr. Winner brought to the table her extensive gastric and colorectal surgical expertise. She also called upon a colleague, one of the foremost experts on bladder cancer, NYU Winthrop’s Anthony Corcoran, MD, a urologic oncologist. Collectively, the team brought to this complex case the best NYU Winthrop expert for each part of the anatomy undergoing surgery.
The team proceeded in conducting “resections” of the small intestine, two portions of the colon, a portion of the bladder, and a part of the abdominal wall. That meant removing cancerous tumors and blockages, while at the same time preserving the integrity of the surrounding non-cancerous organs and tissue. To protect the right ureter that drains the kidney, for example, Dr. Corcoran dissected the ureter away from a tumor mass on the bladder. He then conducted a partial bladder resection before restoring the ureter to its natural position. By doing a partial bladder removal, Dr. Corcoran also enabled Ken to maintain his quality of life with an intact and functioning bladder, rather than having to wear an external urine-collection bag had his entire bladder been removed.
Dr. Winner, in addition to intricate surgery on Ken’s intestine and colon segments, performed a procedure, an ileostomy, to divert stool away from the colon so it could heal. Rounding out Ken’s multidisciplinary team was medical oncologist Prashanti Atluri, MD, who administered chemotherapy after Ken recovered from his surgery to further ensure the eradication of cancer. Many months later, once chemotherapy was finished, Dr. Winner reversed Ken’s ileostomy.
It’s now two years since Ken had the scare of his life, and he remains cancer-free – and grateful to the incredible NYU Winthrop oncology team that saved his life.
“They took me apart and put me back together,” said Ken, “I never experienced any major pain or discomfort, and I’m also grateful for that.”
Inspired by a survivorship presentation given by Dr. Winner, Ken also now attends free weekly exercise programs for cancer survivors, sponsored by the non-profit Strength for Life. “It’s important to consider the whole person when treating cancer,” says Dr. Winner, “At NYU Winthrop, we look at the possibilities offered through technology, surgery and medicine but also integrate into our care psychological, emotional, and family and survivorship considerations.”
The NYU Winthrop team’s compassionate, multidisciplinary care certainly worked for Ken Raikowski, who says, “I have a new lease on life, and I think my health is probably better than ever.”
Ken’s also hopes to make a difference in the lives of family members. He has strongly encouraged his 37-year-old son to have his first colonoscopy early – knowing that preventative screening just might save his life.