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In Fighting Form

Sloan’s da Vinci® Surgery for Prostate Cancer

A cancer diagnosis can come out of nowhere, even after a lifetime of normal, even excellent, check-ups. Still, healthy habits — from competitive stair climbing to annual screenings — can have a profound impact on your fight.

Sloan started seeing N. Richie Thakur, MD, when he moved to Chicago from New York in 1997. Dr. Thakur was his first steady primary care physician, and over time, Dr. Thakur developed a strong familiarity with Sloan and his health. His vitals were typically better than average, due in large part to his active and healthy lifestyle, but that never distracted Dr. Thakur from one concern: Sloan’s PSA number.

PSA stands for prostate-specific antigen, which is a protein produced by the prostate gland. A PSA of 4.0 ng/mL or lower is generally considered normal. Although a high PSA may be an indicator of benign conditions such as inflammation (prostatitis) or enlargement (benign prostatic hyperplasia) of the prostate, it can also be an indicator of prostate cancer.

Sloan’s PSA had always been a little high relative to his age and level of fitness, but not quite high enough to be concerned. Eventually, when he was 49, his PSA rose to a level of concern, and Dr. Thakur recommended additional tests with Kent T. Perry, MD, a urologist at Northwestern Medicine and the Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center of Northwestern University. Dr. Perry diagnosed Sloan with prostate cancer, and to this day, Sloan attributes the early detection to yearly check-ups and Dr. Thakur’s diligence with the data he documented.

Sloan was bewildered upon learning he had prostate cancer. So much of his life revolved around nutrition, exercise and health that to hear he was sick was a shock. Soon though, that surprise evolved into enlightenment.

“When this happened, I know it’s going to sound counterintuitive, but it kind of liberated me,” said Sloan. “Because it was at that point that I thought to myself, ‘You did everything you could to protect your body. You were getting the proper sleep and eating right and these other things.’” He was comforted knowing that the ultimate diagnosis was out of his hands.

Sloan’s healthy habits were about to pay off. While most people face a certain degree of risk with surgery, particularly with regard to anesthesiology, being in shape significantly reduces that risk. Furthermore, as Dr. Perry began explaining Sloan’s treatment options, he told Sloan that, due to his good health, he was a strong candidate for treatment with the da Vinci® surgical system.

da Vinci® surgery is a minimally invasive robotic surgery system that provides surgeons with increased precision for a number of complex treatments in oncology, urology, gynecology and general surgery. While it works much like a traditional laparoscopic procedure, instead of manually controlling the instruments, the surgeons use a console that allows them to move with far more precision, stability and dexterity.

Before Sloan was scheduled for surgery, Dr. Perry encouraged him to meet with John A. Kalapurakal, MD, a Northwestern Medicine radiation oncologist at the Lurie Cancer Center.

Sloan recalled Dr. Perry saying, “I want you to be able to make an informed decision, and when you’re recovering from the surgery, if you’re feeling a little discomfort, I don’t want you to sit there thinking, ‘Man, maybe I should have tried another option.’ I just want you to know it all, so if you do choose this route and you do go through some discomfort, at least you can say you knew all your options.”

After explaining the pros and cons of radiation treatment, Dr. Kalapurakal recommended Sloan pursue the da Vinci® surgery, citing his healthy lifestyle.

“It was at that point that I realized that Northwestern Medicine doesn’t only provide phenomenal care, but they also work for my best interest. I imagine Dr. Kalapurakal had a case to make for radiation treatment, but he basically said, ‘Look, you’re still young. You’re in tip-top shape. I would highly recommend the da Vinci® procedure,’” Sloan continued. “I knew, man, for the last X amount of years, I’ve been in the right place.”

Surgery went off without a hitch. Afterwards, Sloan spent only one day in the hospital, and he went for his first walk the evening after his surgery. In a month’s time, he was feeling well. He started to work out again. With his PSA hovering around zero, it wasn’t long until he could resume one of his favorite fitness hobbies — tower racing, an activity that can be competitive or philanthropic, and involves climbing the stairs of some of the tallest buildings in the country.

And while Sloan summits skyscrapers, his prostate levels stay grounded.