Ken Kolakowski, 53, of Bushkill, Pa., father of six and grandfather of eight, is feeling fine these days. Nearly everyone who knows him finds that amazing because not long ago he was the opposite of “fine.”
“Everybody tells me I’m a miracle,” Kolakowski says.
Renal cancer cost him a kidney in 2012. In 2016, a tumor appeared on the remaining kidney. Six months after surgery to remove it, a scan showed the cancer had spread to Kolakowski’s adrenal gland and lymph nodes. At this point, his primary care physician with LVPG Family Medicine–East Stroudsburg, thought that Kolakowski should meet his friend and colleague, hematologist oncologist Suresh Nair, MD, Physician-in-Chief at Lehigh Valley Topper Cancer Institute and an expert in kidney cancer.
Understanding the big picture
One of the first things Nair did was order a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) study of Kolakowski’s brain. It’s unusual for kidney cancer to spread to the brain, but Kolakowski had begun having headaches. The scan revealed eight brain tumors, one so large it demanded emergency surgery.
“I unfortunately had to give Ken the news on the phone,” Nair says. Rather than go home that night, Kolakowski was admitted to Lehigh Valley Hospital (LVH)–Cedar Crest and scheduled for surgery.
With the crisis averted, Nair turned to formulating a treatment plan. It would be an aggressive one. Life expectancy for a patient with cancer like Kolakowski’s is generally three to six months, but he was determined to fight. Sean Quinlan-Davidson, MD, radiation oncologist at Dale and Frances Hughes Cancer Center at LVH–Pocono, provided whole-brain radiation. Nair then started Kolakowski on a new medication designed for advanced kidney cancer. The collaboration involved multiple physicians, disciplines and facilities, “a great example of teamwork,” Nair says.
That was all more than a year ago.
Looking forward to the future Kolakowski’s brain is back to normal. “There are just a few scars where the tumors had been,” Nair says. Scans still show an adrenal tumor, but it’s shrinking. Quinlan-Davidson will take care of it with an innovative radiosurgery called Varian Edge. “This minimally invasive approach is incredibly accurate. It allows us to use a higher dose of radiation in fewer sessions with less risk to healthy tissues that are nearby – in this case, healthy tissue adjacent to Ken’s adrenal gland,” Quinlan-Davidson says.
Kolakowski continues on the drug Nair prescribed, with a goal to celebrate his 25th wedding anniversary. It’s six years away.
“And then we’ll start working toward another 25 years,” Kolakowski says.