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Leading Edge

For Navy Pilot, Sky's the Limit

Undergoes Leading-Edge Treatment For Colorectal Cancer Joshua Sager

Joshua Sager was flying high. At age 35, the navy fighter-pilot was enjoying the career he always dreamed of, finishing up his masters degree at Naval College in Rhode Island, and planned to be married in a few months. But when he noticed some irregular bleeding that persisted, doctors recommended a colonoscopy. The diagnosis: Stage 3B colorectal cancer.

"It's a life-changer," notes Josh, adding so much goes through your mind. "Is my wife going to be able to handle this? Is my career going to change? But most importantly, am I going to be alive at this point next year?"

The cancer was mostly contained, but had begun to spread into lymph nodes. Treatment would need to be swift. He was sent to Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center.

Colorectal cancer

"I basically met my own basketball-sized team of doctors - all in the same day," Josh recalls. Among his team members were oncologist Michael Goldstein, radiation oncologist Elena Nedea and colorectal surgeon Deborah Nagle. "They covered a lot of ground, including many things I wouldn't have ever thought about."

Josh says they took the time to understand his situation in life, his occupation and the will to continue flying. They also knew he was about to be married.

"They gave a lot of advice, for example, going to an IVF clinic for fertility preservation before having treatment," he says. "They set everything up. It's something for the rest of my life I'll be thankful for."

The cancer treatment included 28 sessions of radiation and chemo over six weeks. Then, he would have surgery to remove the tumor and part of the rectum and lower colon. The procedure was performed by laparoscopic surgery, with several small incisions instead of a large one in the abdomen.

"Most patients who have laparoscopic colon surgery recover more quickly due to less pain," explains Dr. Nagle, who is also Chief of Colorectal Surgery at Beth Israel Deaconess. "They also tend to have a quicker return of bowel function."

A much briefer surgery about 6 weeks later reconnected all his intestines. Then he endured 6 months of additional chemotherapy to kill any cells too small to be detected by radiology tests.

"I tell people and they think I'm crazy, but despite the obvious discomfort of the chemo, radiation and surgery, it's the best thing that ever happened to me," Josh says. "Because in terms of life, friends, family-it puts it all in perspective."

Joshua and his fiancée Jessica got married earlier than planned -- 11 days after he was diagnosed. Now cancer free, Josh is looking forward to going back to his story-book life.

"The biggest thing is just living. Being newly married, having kids someday. I should be getting my clearance to fly in a few months, God willing," he says.

"It is a life-changer, having cancer. But there's a silver lining in those clouds," he adds. "Having supportive family and friends, having a great hospital and great doctors - it's been awesome."

Above content provided by Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. For advice about your medical care, consult your doctor.

Posted March 2011

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Cancer Center
Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center
330 Brookline Avenue
Boston, MA 02215

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