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A Life Saved Twice: Gastric Bypass Patient Wins Colon Cancer Battle

July 7, 2013
Fifty-five-year-old Brian Lewis was just learning his “new normal” after undergoing a successful gastric bypass. He was embracing his healthy lifestyle when, two weeks after completing a grueling physical competition, he received a shocking colon cancer diagnosis. This is his story, in his own words.

When my first granddaughter was born in 2007, I remember holding her and realizing that I had a lot to live for. She was, in a way, an inspiration for me to get back in control of my life. I was very overweight and, basically, my family physician told me that I needed to lose weight or I would die. I had a heart attack at age 45 and suffered with several other medical issues, from sleep apnea to asthma. It was time to make a change.

The Marine Corps Marathon in 2009 was the first marathon I ran after having gastric bypass surgery at GBMC
The Marine Corps Marathon in 2009 was the first marathon I ran after having gastric bypass surgery at GBMC
I found out about GBMC’s Comprehensive Obesity Management Program (COMP) through my insurance company and decided to check out the program. Living hours away on the Eastern Shore, I knew I wouldn’t be able to utilize all of the program’s helpful resources (such as the support groups), but the entire team impressed me, from the surgeons and dietitians to the patient services assistants. They seemed to have thought of everything to help their patients succeed. I chose to go through with gastric bypass surgery — a decision that changed my life. My surgeon, Babak Moeinolmolki, MD, performed successful laparoscopic surgery on July 2, 2008, and by the following.

March, I had trained for and completed a half-marathon! My asthma and sleep apnea were gone. I no longer needed many of the medications I used to depend on. Best of all, I was confident that I was going to be around for my grandchildren. GBMC’s COMP team saved my life, and they continue to support me and troubleshoot any weight or diet challenges I face.

A few years later, in July 2011, a new diagnosis changed my world. Two weeks after competing in a half-Ironman race, which consisted of 70.3 miles of swimming, biking and running, I was diagnosed with colon cancer. Having had no obvious symptoms, I was caught off-guard. Polyps had been found during a routine colonoscopy screening and tested positive for cancer. Unsure of what to do, I talked to Dr. Moeinolmolki, who suggested I make an appointment with his colleague George Apostolides, MD, FACS, FASCRS, GBMC’s Chief of Colorectal Surgery. Dr. Apostolides saw me right away, and we soon realized that my cancer was aggressive. During the initial diagnosis and CT scan, it appeared that the cancer was stage 1, with no apparent lymph node involvement. After a sonogram about 10 days later, Dr. Apostolides recognized that the cancer actually had reached my lymph nodes and was stage 3. I underwent surgery on August 2 and began a six-month course of chemotherapy on September 15. I’m happy to say that I’ve been cancer-free ever since.

"My GBMC physicians remain a powerful resource for me in my endeavors, and everyone who cared for me did a wonderful job explaining what to expect each step of the way."
Nation's Triathlon in 2010. This was the first triathlon I completed. The money I raised was donated to finding a cure for cancer.
Nation's Triathlon in 2010. This was the first triathlon I completed. The money I raised was donated to finding a cure for cancer.
Although I have nerve damage from my chemotherapy that causes discomfort in my feet and still feel a little tired sometimes, I’m working hard to get back into the good physical condition I was in before cancer. Determined to keep pushing toward that “new normal” I enjoyed after my weight loss surgery, I’m training to do another half-Ironman in June and a full-Ironman in November. I continue to live the healthy lifestyle that I began after my bariatric surgery, focusing on nutrition and fitness. My GBMC physicians remain a powerful resource for me in my endeavors, and everyone who cared for me did a wonderful job explaining what to expect each step of the way. When I had my bariatric surgery, I was thankful to know I’d be here for my grandkids. Now, thanks to both Dr. Moeinolmolki and Dr. Apostolides, I’m hopeful that I’ll be here for my great grandkids too.

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