Hamburg resident Troy Strausser, 54, remembers sitting in the recovery room with his wife of 32 years waiting for his colonoscopy results. Strausser, a former powerlifter who now considers himself a “gym rat,” had noticed blood in his stool for a couple of months.
“At my colonoscopy, I knew something was not right,” Strausser says. “But sometimes, you just have to hope for the best.”
That August day in 2015, Strausser was diagnosed with stage 3 rectal cancer. But his commitment to hope paid off when oncologist Maged Khalil, MD, Associate Director of Clinical Research at Lehigh Valley Topper Cancer Institute, presented Strausser with an option to join a clinical trial. Strausser saw the trial as a great opportunity and volunteered.
For patients at this stage of rectal cancer, current standard of care includes chemotherapy plus radiation, followed by surgery, then additional chemotherapy. An alternative is the PROSPECT Rectal Cancer Trial, available through the National Cancer Institute.
“The PROSPECT trial is an effort to understand if certain patients with rectal cancer can be effectively treated without radiation prior to their operation,” Khalil says. “While radiation can decrease risk for recurrence, radiotherapy to the pelvis can be associated with multiple side effects.”
Randomized to the experimental arm of the trial, Strausser received six cycles of chemotherapy, with no radiation. His response was successful.
“Patients on the trial must show that they’ve had at least 20 percent response before surgery,” Khalil says. “Troy had about a 35 percent response. After surgery, he showed no evidence of disease.”
John Park, MD, colon-rectal surgeon with Colon-Rectal Surgery Associates, PC, performed Strausser’s surgery at Lehigh Valley Hospital–Cedar Crest. While surgery successfully eliminated Strausser’s cancer, recovery presented complications.
“Troy needed an ileostomy to let the area rest and heal, but he had unusual complications with it,” Park says. So after just four weeks, Park successfully closed Strausser’s ileostomy, which was originally intended to remain in place for six months.
While the healing process took more than a year, Strausser received the final six chemotherapy treatments and has had no cancer recurrence. His life, including his workouts, are back to normal.
“I’m really no different from any other cancer patient,” Strausser says. “For me, the clinical trial just worked out so well. I’m so thankful for all that Dr. Park and Dr. Khalil did for me.”