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Meet Robert, Prostate Cancer Survivor

August 30, 2021

When Robert ‘Rob’ White underwent the state-mandated physical exam for his Connecticut commercial driver’s license (CDL) renewal, he never realized this exam would save his life. Rob is a construction equipment operator and an occasional snow plow truck driver, and because he takes blood pressure medication, the state requires he undergo a CDL physical every year. With no current health issues to speak of, he arrived at the doctor’s office expecting the exam to be routine.

Hematuria, which is blood in the urine, was detected so Rob was asked to undergo additional tests, which included a prostate-specific antigen (PSA) test. His primary care provider found that Rob’s PSA levels were high, but suggested they wait and retest in six months. At the same time, Rob’s daughter, a nurse at Lawrence + Memorial Hospital, reached out to two urologists she met while in nursing school, Joseph Renzulli, MD, from Yale Urology, and E. Brad Miller, MD, from Northeast Medical Group. Both urologists had immediate concerns, so Rob requested a referral to meet with Dr. Renzulli and a biopsy was scheduled.

Twelve cores were taken during the biopsy, and seven showed indications of cancer. Even more concerning to Dr. Renzulli was the number of cores that returned positive and the proximity to the wall of the prostate and nerve bundles. Rob’s high PSA level, combined with his biopsy results, raised suspicion that he may have an aggressive form of prostate cancer.

Dr. Renzulli explains, “Robert’s biopsy demonstrated features that suggested more aggressive disease and it allowed us to develop a preoperative plan to limit the likelihood of positive margins at the time of surgery.”

Because Rob’s cancer was localized, he had two treatment options: radiation or a prostatectomy, which is a complete removal of the prostate. Rob chose surgery, and he soon learned he would be the first patient to undergo a robotic prostatectomy using Westerly Hospital’s new daVinci XI surgical robot system.

“I was a little apprehensive when I learned Dr. Renzulli was going to be using this machine for the first time, but after he explained it was new to the hospital and he had a great amount of experience with the machine, I felt more at ease,” said Rob. “My daughter also reassured me about the robot and how it worked, and I must have watched all the videos on YouTube for robotic surgery. The precision is simply amazing.”

In mid-May, Rob underwent a successful 3 ½ hour surgery. He was in the hospital for one night and was walking slow laps around the nurses station the next day. Rob experienced soreness, but says compared to his friends who had the same procedure as open surgery instead of robotic surgery, his three small incisions were a piece of cake.

“For patients like Robert, with the da Vinci XI robotic system, we are able to perform safer surgeries with smaller incisions, improving recovery time, and getting patients home faster,” said Dr. Renzulli. “The Yale Urology team is extremely excited to have brought our expertise in robotic surgeries to Westerly Hospital, enhancing the available treatment options for all residents of Rhode Island and neighboring communities.”

Rob’s pathology report confirmed the prostate cancer was indeed localized, and he will continue to have PSA testing every six months.

“I never minded having to do the regular CDL physicals for my license, but after this experience, I am so grateful that it caught the cancer,” said Rob. “I’m only 54 and I still have a lot of life to live.”

Submitted by Eliza Folsom on August 30, 2021