Ricardo Konz is a family man. He works hard to provide for his loved ones, and takes time to enjoy the things in life that bring him joy, including his family and outdoor hobbies like fishing, camping and dirt bike riding.
Similar to many fathers, he was used to caring for others – often delaying his own preventive health care – but something his father once said stuck out in his mind. “My dad always told me, ‘if you find blood in your stool, don’t wait, go to the doctor immediately’,” says Ricardo.
Remembering his father’s words and upon seeing blood, he scheduled himself for his first colonoscopy at age 60. Blood in the stool is a common sign of colorectal cancer. Unfortunately, this type of symptom often appears only after the cancer has grown or spread.
During Ricardo’s colonoscopy, an abnormal growth was found. Doctors removed a small piece of the growth and examined it for cancer cells. The biopsy confirmed that his symptoms were in fact caused by rectal cancer.
Luckily for Ricardo, his cancer hadn’t spread to surrounding organs, meaning it was caught in an early, more treatable stage.
Ricardo was referred to medical oncologist, Nilesh Vora, M.D., and colorectal surgeon, Ayman I. Neoman, M.D., at the MemorialCare Todd Cancer Institute at Long Beach Medical Center. Known for its blend of compassionate care and innovative treatments, the MemorialCare Todd Cancer Institute believes in collaboration and partnership among specialties.
Ricardo’s case was brought to the Gastrointestinal Treatment Planning Conference, where a multi-disciplinary team of specialists ranging from gastroenterologists, oncologists, radiation oncologists, surgeons, pathologists and radiologists convened to create an individualized plan to meet Ricardo’s unique needs. This allowed him access to a variety of specialist’s opinions well beyond one aspect of his cancer.
“We’re always looking at the latest research and literature to ensure that we provide the best treatment for our patients,” says Dr. Vora. “With Ricardo’s specific cancer, he fit the criteria for total neoadjuvant therapy. With this treatment plan, virtually all of his chemotherapy and radiation would be done prior to surgery in order to eliminate as much of the cancer as possible, allowing for a less complex surgery and easier recovery.”
Recent studies have shown that patients with localized rectal cancer, like Ricardo, benefit more from having radiation and chemotherapy prior to surgery compared to previous treatment plans where surgery was often the primary treatment tool, and chemotherapy or radiation also may have been prescribed after surgery.
Knowing it wouldn’t be easy, Ricardo kept a positive attitude and started a treatment journey that would last nearly a year.
“I had the mentality of just staying strong,” says Ricardo. “I knew if I didn’t do it, no one else could do it for me. The support that I had from my doctors and the entire team allowed me to just focus on getting better. I really leaned on them and the open communication they had. I always knew what to expect.”
Under the guidance of Dr. Vora, Ricardo received chemotherapy treatments in the Ambulatory Infusion Center in the Todd Cancer Pavilion for several months. Next, he would undergo radiation therapy, while he continued oral chemotherapy in pill form.
Because of the approach Dr. Vora and the team used, Ricardo’s cancer was nearly eliminated before he even stepped foot in the operating room.
When it came time to operate, Dr. Neoman cut the remaining cancer cells out. However, the surgery left Ricardo’s rectum weak and he needed a temporary ileostomy bag. An ileostomy changes the way the body gets rid of waste. After the surgery, there is an opening called a stoma in the belly. Waste will pass through the stoma into a pouch that collects it.
It’s been several months, and Ricardo continues to follow up with his doctors who will soon be ready to remove the bag – the last remaining sign of his cancer. But the bag hasn’t slowed him down or diminished his spirit. He’s looking forward to getting back to work and back to the great outdoors.
With quick action and a team by his side, Ricardo was able to catch and treat his cancer in “reel” time.