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Robert Sklar - Patient Story

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“I was told I was going to die so I turned to Fox Chase to save my life – and they did”

— Robert Sklar, Colon Cancer Survivor

In February, 2014, Robert Sklar believed that he was “indestructible.” At 70, he had never had any serious illnesses, was rarely sick and did not take any medications. But, when he returned from Las Vegas feeling exhausted and not himself, Robert made an appointment with his family doctor. She ordered blood work and conducted a general physical. “My hemoglobin count was 6 and should have been 12.  She referred me to my local community hospital for my first ever colonoscopy,” he recalls.

The colonoscopy revealed that Robert had a large tumor on his colon. “It was cancer,” Bob says. “I spoke to a surgeon at the community hospital and was ready to have the operation done there.”

Then, he received a phone call no person wants to ever receive.

"A few days later, the doctor who performed the colonoscopy called to say that there was nothing they could do. I should prepare for the worst and get my affairs in order,” explains Bob. “It was very upsetting. So, I turned to my wife for help and support.”

Robert’s wife, Marcia, had a friend whose brother had surgery at Fox Chase Cancer Center in Philadelphia, about 45 minutes south of their home.

“I felt I was in very good hands."

That doctor was Elin R. Sigurdson, MD, PhD, FACS, Director of the Division of General Surgery at Fox Chase. Robert met with Dr. Sigurdson and the Chief of Gastrointestinal Hematology Oncology. “They confirmed I had colon cancer and they developed a tailored treatment that included chemotherapy to shrink the tumor, followed by surgery to remove what remained,” Robert recalls. “I felt I was in very good hands. They were reassuring and confident they could help me.”

Robert began both oral and infusion chemotherapy and reported no adverse reactions initially. However, after the strength of the chemotherapy increased, Robert’s tumor became irritated and a blockage developed. “I was in excruciating pain,” admits Robert, who was swiftly rushed to the Fox Chase for emergency surgery. The surgeon on call at that time was Jeffery M. Farma, MD, FACS, a surgical oncologist at Fox Chase. He immediately operated to alleviate the situation by creating an ostomy,” remembers Robert, who shares it was a very difficult time for him.

 “Having to wear a bag was the most devastating thing I ever had to go through, partly because I never had time to prepare for it,” shares Robert, who was assured the procedure was reversible in most cases.  “Throughout this whole time, I still went to work every day. I am a sales manager in the car business - and worked 50-60 hours a week.” He continued his chemotherapy regiment through early September 2014, and had the reversal scheduled for early October.

During preadmission testing, the doctors noted activity on Robert’s liver. Dr. Sigurdson brought a hepatobiliary surgeon onto the treatment team.

On October 3, 2014, Dr. Farma and colleagues performed an extensive and delicate eight-hour surgery to remove all of Robert’s spleen and part of his colon, pancreas, and liver.

“During the surgery, both physicians made it a point to update my family and keep their spirits high,” recognizes Robert.” I know how difficult it is for family members to sit for so many hours anxiously awaiting news.”

And a promise was kept, Robert said. “Dr. Farma reversed the ostomy, just like I he said.’

“Their commitment to patient care is truly evident."

“Several days after the surgery, while still in the hospital, I was told that I was cancer-free,” admits Robert, who was told elsewhere that he had just a few months to live. I'm not ashamed to admit – I cried like a baby. The Fox Chase doctors on my team literally saved my life.”  

“I wish I had the words to properly thank Dr. Sigurdson, Dr. Farma and the other doctors for saving my life - but those words don't exist,” he continues. “My doctors and all of all the nurses and aides who took care of me were fantastic. In my opinion, Fox Chase Cancer Center is the most outstanding cancer hospital in the world – my wife, children and grandchildren would not have me now if I wasn’t treated there.”

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