Man with rare cancer has complex surgery during COVID-19 pandemic

Western Connecticut Health Network
Vince’s first swim after surgery, cropped

Summary:

  • Vince McRuiz was diagnosed with a retroperitoneal sarcoma — a rare abdominal cancer — in March, just as the COVID-19 pandemic was ramping up in the northeastern United States.
  • Vince needed surgery to remove the tumor. Retroperitoneal sarcoma surgery is among the most complex type of surgery performed.
  • After Vince’s positive care experience at Danbury Hospital during the pandemic, he wants to encourage others not to put off medical care due to COVID-19 concerns.

Cancer alone can be a daunting diagnosis. What if the cancer is rare and you’re diagnosed during a pandemic? Vince McRuiz, 68, of Brookfield, Connecticut lived through this experience.

Vince has experienced several health and personal challenges the past several years. He was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis in 2013 and underwent major colon surgery in 2019, which required a three-week hospital stay. In 2018, Vince lost his wife, Cynthia, to complications from Parkinson’s disease.

Then in March 2020, a routine CT scan at Danbury Hospital to follow up on the colon surgery showed a mass in Vince’s abdomen. Biopsy results confirmed that the mass was malignant. Vince had a large retroperitoneal sarcoma. This rare type of tumor develops in the lining of the abdominal wall and the soft tissues that surround the kidneys, pancreas, and blood vessels.

As the father of three children and grandfather of four, Vince’s family is the centerpiece of his life. He knew he needed to treat the cancer as quickly as possible despite COVID-19 so he could get back to spending time with his family and other life priorities.

“I was stunned. I was frightened, and I didn’t really know anything about cancer,” said Vince. “I lost my mother and two good friends to cancer, so as far as I knew, it meant a death sentence — that was foremost on my mind.”

Care close to home

Vince’s medical oncologist/hematologist, Dr. Sharynn Hall, arranged for him to meet Dr. Margo Shoup, surgical oncologist, senior vice president, and system chair of the Nuvance Health Cancer Institute. Retroperitoneal sarcoma surgery is among the most complex type of surgery performed. Dr. Shoup has expertise in this type of cancer surgery because she specializes in treating gastrointestinal cancers and sarcomas.

Sharynn Hall, MD
Dr. Sharynn Hall, Medical Oncologist/Hematologist, Danbury Hospital

Vince initially intended to travel to New York City for his cancer care. But after meeting with Dr. Shoup, he decided to have surgery at Danbury Hospital. Dr. Shoup recommended for Vince to have surgery as soon as possible; he had advanced-stage cancer and the tumor was causing him significant discomfort because of its size and it was growing.

Margo Shoup, MD
Dr. Margo Shoup, Surgical Oncologist
Network Chair of Cancer Services at Nuvance Health

Successful surgery during COVID-19 pandemic

Vince had his surgery at Danbury Hospital during the COVID-19 pandemic. During a four-hour surgery, Dr. Shoup removed a large tumor that was over 20 inches, as well as two smaller tumors that were 8 inches and 5 inches. She also removed one of Vince’s kidneys and an adrenal gland, which had been displaced by the largest tumor.

“The COVID-19 dimension was a little scary, but honestly, it wasn’t greatly on my mind yet because I was so focused on the fact that I had cancer,” said Vince.

Vince said he felt secure during his hospital stay due to his private room and other safety precautions. He was also impressed by his care.

“Dr. Shoup was terrific,” said Vince. “I think the world of her. Nurse Victoria Grasso was also outstanding.”

Focusing on recovery

Vince was discharged from the hospital four days after his surgery. His daughter, Elise, temporarily moved in with her Samoyed dog, Brie, to stay with him and was able to work from his house. Vince said Elise’s care and assistance were invaluable during the early recovery period. Vince also briefly had in-home nursing care but said he needed very little nursing assistance.

Vince with his daughter, Elise, and her dog, Brie
Vince with his daughter, Elise, and her dog, Brie

“When I got out of the hospital, I was weak as a kitten, and walking was a big challenge. I was in significant pain for about a week afterward and had a lot of rebuilding to do,” said Vince. “For two weeks, the hardest part of my day was getting out of bed because I didn’t have abdominal strength.”

During the early part of his recovery and guided by his care team, Vince said he focused on good nutrition to help with healing, and getting up and walking as much as he could. He also focused on deep breathing exercises to improve his lung function, build strength, improve overall health, and reduce the risk of pneumonia — which was especially crucial because of COVID-19.

“I started by walking around the house, and now I’m walking 1.5 miles a day,” said Vince, who has always enjoyed outdoor activities such as swimming, landscape gardening, hiking, and riding his motorcycle.

Vince’s first motorcycle ride after surgery in late May 2020
Vince’s first motorcycle ride after surgery in late May 2020

Today, Vince is in good spirits. He still needs to have quarterly follow-up CT scans to make sure he is healing well and to determine if additional treatment is required. But for now, he is looking forward to regaining his strength and enjoying life as completely as possible.

Vince’s first swim after surgery in late June 2020
Vince’s first swim after surgery in late June 2020

“I look forward to doing fun things with my kids and grandchildren, like hiking trips,” said Vince. “My grandkids are very active, and I want to spend a lot of time with them experiencing their growth. I also love to travel, and I can’t wait to get back to that.”

Vince said he is also working on recovering after the loss of his wife.

“I look forward to getting physically healthier so I can put more energy toward my emotional health,” said Vince.

Encouraging others to resume care

As communities reopen, Vince said he wants to encourage others not to put off medical care due to COVID-19 concerns. His experience at Danbury Hospital showed him that Nuvance Health is capable of dealing with health concerns during a pandemic.

“Evidence indicates that some people are afraid to leave their homes in order to seek needed treatment, sometimes letting an illness get far worse,” said Vince. “People should weigh the benefits and risks of possible COVID-19 exposure versus getting the care they need. Listen to science and not to fear when it comes to managing your health.”

To learn more about Nuvance Health cancer care, please visit our websites:

Connecticut Cancer Care | New York Cancer Care

CONTACT
Amy Forni, Manager, Public Relations
(203) 739 7478 | Amy.Forni@nuvancehealth.org