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Going the Distance to Beat the Odds

During the summer of 2017, Kentucky native Jay Henning noticed changes in his bowel movements. His doctor recommended a colonoscopy, and after the procedure, Jay got the news that he had 99% blockage in his rectum due to a tumor.

“Everything happened quickly after that. The biopsy determined the tumor was cancer. On Thursday, I had a CT scan, and on Friday, there was a plan in place to have surgery immediately. By Monday, things changed again. My surgery was cancelled because the CT scan showed that the cancer had advanced to my liver. I was no longer a surgical candidate.” As Jay recalled.

That’s when Jay began advocating for himself and researching his options.

Receiving chemotherapy while hoping for a change.

After doctors initially told Jay he would have a year, maybe two, to live, he began seeking other opinions. As Jay remembers, “If I was going to die, I was going to go down fighting.”

Living in Kentucky, his search initially led him to a local health system, where he received three months of chemotherapy. After that initial treatment, his scans showed tremendous improvements, making him a surgical candidate again.

“With surgery back on the table, I wanted to weigh my options. Initially, my doctors suggested more chemotherapy with a surgical approach that would require four separate surgeries.”

That’s when Jay went to yet another health system, a state away, for a second opinion. The doctors there suggested an approach with just two surgeries, but Jay continued to search for a better solution.

“I had heard about Allegheny Health Network and that they had a cancer board where the doctors met to discuss patients. I sent my information over, hoping I’d hear back sometime soon. Dr. Thai called me the next day.”

Just like that, Jay was on his way to Pittsburgh to learn how AHN doctors planned to save his life.

Introducing the da Vinci Surgical System

Jay’s team of doctors — led by James McCormick, DO and supported by Ngoc Thai, MD, PhD, and Tadahiro Uemura, MD — devised a surgical plan that would still require two surgeries, but the first would use the da Vinci Surgical System, a far less invasive approach.

The da Vinci Surgical System uses robotic arms that allow the surgeon to operate through small incisions. With a visual display that magnifies the view of the area while operating, and more precise movements, the surgeon can more successfully remove the entirety of a tumor, decreasing the likelihood of cancer returning.

After Jay’s visit, and hearing more about this innovative approach, he had a decision to make.

“This choice wasn’t about convenience. This choice was: ‘who do I think has the best chance to save my life.’ And the more I thought about it, it became clear – I had to go with those AHN doctors.”

Living cancer free

After successfully completing both surgeries with AHN — removing his tumor entirely from his rectum and completing a liver resection — Jay received three additional months of chemotherapy closer to home.
Since then, his scans every three months and bloodwork every month show the same result: cancer-free.

“I went from diagnosis, to hearing I had two years to live, to being cancer free less than a year later. I knew I made the right decision with AHN before I even had the surgery. But now, living cancer-free, I can’t say enough about the work those doctors did for me.”

Contact Us

If you’re experiencing some type of digestive, liver, or pancreatic issue, request an appointment with one of our experts or get more information on Allegheny Health Network’s gastroenterologists.