Trained to improve the odds.
Making Good On a Mission
When Northwestern Memorial Hospital Urology Chair Edward M. Schaeffer, MD, PhD, was training, the consensus at the time was that men with aggressive cancer couldn’t be cured. The best hope was to slow the cancer’s growth to extend the patient’s life. Unwilling to settle for such outcomes, Dr. Schaeffer made it his life’s mission to find a more effective treatment, with a cure as the ultimate goal.
The common understanding I encountered during training just wasn’t satisfactory to me. So, I made this work my life’s mission.
This made Dr. Schaeffer a perfect partner for Medical Oncologist Christopher M. George, MD, and the Radiation Oncology team at Northwestern Medicine Cancer Center Delnor. Working together, they were uniquely prepared to tackle Dave’s cancer with resources that only the top-ranked cancer program in Illinois could provide.* While Dr. George and the Oncology team would manage Dave’s traditional therapies, including hormonal therapy and radiation, Dr. Schaeffer would remove any cancerous masses through robotic surgery techniques. This specialized procedure was originally brought to Illinois by Dr. Schaeffer when he joined Northwestern Medicine, so he was perfectly suited to take on Dave’s case.
Dave was sent to me for simple, systemic treatment, and that’s that. But I asked Dr. Schaeffer to review his case, and together we soon realized that with a multimodal treatment plan combining surgery and radiation, we could offer Dave a real chance to live.
*Northwestern Memorial Hospital by U.S. News & World Report, 2021–2022.
When surgery becomes superhuman.
When Dave’s cancer spread throughout his pelvic region, a bulky tumor pressed into his bladder and rectum. It overtook lymph nodes and ultimately posed a threat to nearby blood vessels, nerves and organs. Even the slightest surgical mistake could permanently threaten Dave’s urinary, bowel and/or leg function — or worse, his life. As a result, removing the tumor would require a robotic prostatectomy performed with the da Vinci® Surgical System, a multi-component robot that allows surgeons to make precise and steady incisions.
Joining Dr. Schaeffer and the surgical team for Dave’s surgery was Anesthesiologist Saadia S. Sherwani, MD. It was go time.
The tumor originated in the prostate but had progressed and spread, pushing into the rectum and bladder. Because the normal boundaries were blurred by the tumor, successful removal was technically very challenging and relied heavily on surgical skill and experience.
The da Vinci® robot’s arms and specialized endowrist instrumentation combine so the device can move like a tiny human wrist. This system allows a surgeon to maneuver in small, hard-to-reach places. Although highly advanced, this technology is heavily dependent on the skill and experience of the surgeon. Over the course of two and a half hours, Dr. Schaeffer skillfully manipulated the da Vinci® instruments via a console that displayed a three-dimensional image of Dave’s inner body. Using both foot and hand controls, Dr. Schaeffer successfully removed the tumor without damaging the surrounding healthy tissue.
As originally planned by Dave’s Oncology team, the next step after surgery was to fully clear the pelvis of cancer with radiation treatment. Fortunately, Dr. George and Dave’s Radiation Oncology team were located close to his home in Chicago’s west suburbs, which meant he didn’t have to travel into the city for treatment. After receiving 30 rounds of radiation treatment and consistent hormone therapy at Delnor Cancer Center, Dave finally heard the words that his initial prognosis suggested would never be possible: “You’re cancer-free.”
Dave didn’t let cancer slow him down. We built the treatment plan around Dave’s busy and very active lifestyle.
After a surgery like Dave’s, Dr. Schaeffer typically refers his patients to Men’s Health Specialist Nelson E. Bennett Jr., MD, at Northwestern Memorial Hospital to help with restoration of vitality. Dr. Bennett focuses on the physical, medical and hormonal conditions that impact sexual health following a urologic cancer diagnosis.
You can’t deliver excellent care by yourself; you really can’t. You need to be surrounded by really great people — dedicated people —and we have that here at Northwestern Medicine.
What makes us better, makes you better.®
WINNING THE RACE
A story like Dave’s is just one of many reasons why Northwestern Memorial Hospital, the anchor hospital for Northwestern Medicine, is the highest-ranked in Illinois for Cancer and Urology.* At Northwestern Medicine, our collaboration, expertise and personalized teams are unparalleled. Today, Dave’s PSA level is normal, and there’s no trace of cancer in his system. He continues to see Dr. George and Dr. Schaeffer for regular checkups, keeping in touch with the world-class medical team that gave him a new lease on life.
I think we’re given a hell of a gift to be put on this earth, and you have to use it. Northwestern Medicine, and everybody involved, are the ones why I’m still here doing it.
Outcomes like these aren’t uncommon for physicians at Northwestern Medicine. What is uncommon is to see a patient get back on a motocross bike at the age of 62, only one year after undergoing a serious surgery. It seems the only thing that’s changed for Dave is an upgrade to his bike: It now proudly displays a Northwestern Medicine decal.
*U.S. News & World Report, 2021–2022.