In December 2015, Kevin Daly had open-heart surgery to repair his aortic valve. His cardiologist wanted him to lose some weight after the surgery and, by October 2017, thanks to exercise and eating better, he went from 232 pounds to 198. But, weirdly, his waist didn't shrink at all. He had a beer belly. "I said to my cardiologist, 'Now explain to me as a doctor how, logically, I lost 34 pounds but not one ounce off my stomach,” Daly tells Tonic. (For the record, the 63-year-old doesn't even like beer.)
His cardiologist thought it could have been a hernia. "I thought they literally left stuffing and tools in me from surgery," Daly, who lives in Hoboken, New Jersey, told the New York Daily News. Then Daly remembered a friend of his whose waist got inexplicably bigger and ended up having a 6-pound tumor removed. His doctor wanted to get a CAT scan but Daly's insurance initially refused. After getting an ultrasound that was inconclusive, his insurance approved a CAT scan. It indicated a large tumor, estimated to be 12 pounds.
"My cardiologist called me 4 hours later and said 'I'm thrilled that you advocated for yourself because the first words on the report were that you have an "extremely large mass."' And he said my organs are just squished all out of place. For two seconds I was thrilled that I was vindicated," Daly says. "And then after that I was crushed because now I’m thinking 'I have a giant cancerous tumor in my stomach. Am I going to die?'"
Daly had surgery to remove the mass at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City on December 28. Julio Teixeira, chief of minimally invasive surgery at Lenox Hill, led the four-hour procedure where the team discovered that the mass was actually a staggering 30 pounds. It had wrapped around the ducts of Daly's left kidney, which also had to be removed in order to get the tumor out in one piece, Teixeira tells Tonic.
"I had the largest C-section in the world and gave birth to a toddler," Daly jokes. His incision was about 16 inches, but he says the recovery was a piece of cake compared to open-heart surgery. When he came home from the hospital, he was 172 pounds, and now he's a "lean, flat-bellied 187." He's looking forward to getting back on the golf course once he's regains full strength and in the meantime he's doing physical therapy. “I feel great. I’m happy to be a college-weight, hard-bodied, 63-year-old. My wife is thrilled.”
Teixeira says it's the biggest tumor he's ever seen in his 30 years of medicine. "The funny thing is, I’m the chief of minimally invasive surgery and I had to do like a maximally invasive operation to get this out," he says, adding "We made as big an incision as possible…We had to strategically approach it in stages from different angles because it really occupied a space from the top of diaphragm all the way to depth of pelvis." Plus the thing was heavy and Teixeira needed "lot of different pairs of hands" to help.
Pathology reports confirmed that it was a liposarcoma, a relatively uncommon, slow-growing cancer that develops in fat tissue and is treated primarily with surgery, Teixeira says, as these tumors don't respond well to chemotherapy or radiation. Daly's overall prognosis is very good, he says, and the treatment plan is to monitor him with imaging tests and if there's a recurrence, he'll go back under the knife. But maybe a minimally invasive, robotic surgery—the types of procedures Teixeira normally does. Daly's first follow-up MRI on March 9 was clear; he'll have scans every six months.
"They don't see tumors this big, because way before this, something goes wrong," Daly says. "You have a bowel obstruction, you have kidney problems…something causes you so much pain and discomfort that you go to emergency room and they do a CAT scan and like my friend they take it out when it's much smaller. The fact that I could function normally with this inside of me is the miracle." The only thing he could account for is that he met Pope Francis in 2014.
Teixeira credits Daly for knowing something was up with his body. "I think that’s the take-home message. Your instincts are usually right. If something doesn’t feel right it probably is not right," Teixeira says.
And, yes, he still believes this in the age of Dr. Google. "That’s always a tricky balance because we need to reassure patients and yet we need to be their advisers. Part of our role as physicians is to try to help patients interpret what they read on the internet and put it into context," he says. "It’s important [that] if you don’t feel right, you don’t ignore it."
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