At 85-years-old, Alda Gamm thought she had overcome all of life’s challenges. Keeping busy as a regular volunteer at her local church, avid baker and exercise enthusiast, she wasn’t one to let her age slow her down. Having a long life filled with love from her family, and the occasional gardening session with her eight grandchildren, Alda was very content with life and always on top of her health.
Near the end of the year in 2013, Alda began to notice blood from her rectum from time to time. At first she didn’t think anything of it and brushed it off as strange, but not alarming. When it happened to her about a dozen times she knew she had to consult a physician about her odd and sudden symptom.
After seeing her primary care physician, she scheduled a colonoscopy to investigate the issue further. “I had my appointment on Nov. 25 with Daniel Rodiles, M.D.,” says Alda. “I remember the exact date because it just happened to be my birthday.” Shortly after her colonoscopy, Alda received her results and was diagnosed with rectal cancer.
Colorectal cancer is a term for cancer that starts in either the colon or the rectum. Colon cancer and cancer of the rectum nearly always begin as benign polyps – a growth that starts in the inner lining of the colon or rectum and grows toward the center, which slowly develops into cancer. Signs and symptoms of colorectal cancer may include blood in the stool, a change in bowel movements, weight loss and feeling tired all the time.
After having her birthday take a turn for the worse, Alda knew she had to figure out an effective treatment plan as soon as possible. In her search for treatment she found Imad Shbeeb, M.D., medical director, colorectal surgery program, MemorialCare Todd Cancer Institute, Long Beach Medical Center, and decided to entrust him with her care. After a thorough consultation with Dr. Shbeeb, Alda decided to move forward with robotic-assisted surgery to remove her cancer.
Through robotic-assisted surgery, a surgeon has increased visualization, dexterity, precision and control of their procedure, which is performed through small 1–2 cm incisions. During an operation, the surgeon sits at a console in the surgical suite and directs the robotic arms to perform the surgery. As a result of the minimally-invasive approach, surgery patients experience less post-operative pain, reduced trauma and blood loss, less scarring, shorter hospital stays and a quicker recovery.
Just three days after her surgery Alda was out of the hospital with no pain and only mild discomfort. “I kept having to be told to take it easy because I felt so good, that I went about my days as usual,” says Alda. “My surgery was so successful and painless that I felt like I didn’t have much to recover from.”
After her surgery it was time for the second stage of her treatment. Wanting to find an option that was less invasive than radiation therapy, and closer to home, led Alda to Jonathan Blitzer, M.D., oncologist, MemorialCare Todd Cancer Institute, Long Beach Medical Center.
Under Dr. Blitzer’s care Alda was prescribed six sessions of chemotherapy over the course of 12 weeks. Taking a relatively mild dose of Xeloda® each day during treatment, Alda was able to make it through her chemotherapy with little to no side-effects.
“I’m so grateful that this whole process turned out to be so easy,” says Alda. “It helped me stay positive throughout my treatment and recovery. Dr. Shbeeb and Dr. Blitzer took excellent care of me and I can’t thank them enough.”
Alda is now back to her normal routine of meticulously tending to her garden, volunteering at church and baking delicious treats. Her care team has been closely monitoring her health and according to all of their testing there has been no sign of recurrence.