In 2010, everything in Tom Fairlie’s life seemed to be going well. He was busy as the division director of fine arts at Temple College and conductor of the Temple Symphony Orchestra. He was staying physically fit as an avid cyclist. And he and his wife were enjoying their time together.
However, things changed suddenly one day when Tom noticed blood in his urine. He immediately consulted with his internist, Barbara Weiss, MD, and she referred him to a urologist, Kristofer R. Wagner, MD. As it turned out, Mr. Fairlie already knew Dr. Wagner because both were members of the Scott & White Community Cycling Club.
Rare Cancer, Unique Patient
After a biopsy, evaluated by pathologist Ludvik Donner, MD, Tom was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer – carcinoma in situ of the bladder. What made this cancer particularly unusual was that it was located within a diverticulum, a pocket of the bladder wall. “It was also a very aggressive type of cancer that often will invade the bladder wall and spread to other sites. An aggressive tumor in a diverticulum is a high-risk situation,” says Dr. Wagner.
While chemotherapy was an option for treating the cancer, Dr. Wagner informed Tom that a complete bladder removal offered his best chance of being cured. So Dr. Wagner recommended that Tom meet with a Scott & White colleague, Bulur J. Patel, MD. As Chief of the Section of Urologic Oncology, Dr. Patel is one of a handful of surgeons in the region who perform the procedure. Already familiar with Scott & White Healthcare, Tom was comfortable having his surgery there. “Scott & White is just a stone’s throw from our home, and we already knew that the doctors there are top-notch – and many are good friends.” And because results are typically better among high-volume surgeons, Tom felt particularly confident in Dr. Patel. As Dr. Wagner puts it, “Nobody within a hundred miles does nearly as many.”
After further consultation with Dr. Patel, it was agreed that Tom should proceed with the surgery, which involves removing the entire bladder and using a piece of bowel to drain the kidneys. Unlike some surgery options that leave a pouch for collecting urine that the patient must manually empty, Tom and his doctors chose a more complicated operation to create something called a neobladder. This bladder-like pouch is formed using the intestine and allows the patient to urinate normally.
According to Dr. Patel, the neobladder method is not for everyone, but Tom was a good candidate and fit the criteria. “Mr. Fairlie is young and physically fit, and likely to live a long life. This type of surgery would prevent him from experiencing significant urinary dysfunction for the rest of his life,” says Dr. Wagner. “Patient motivation is key because the surgery requires some maintenance work on the patient’s part.”
Initially, Mrs. Fairlie was apprehensive about her husband undergoing the surgery, having seen other loved ones undergo cancer surgeries and not survive. But knowing that her husband always set high goals for himself and that the Scott & White Healthcare team was one of the best in the country, she finally agreed to the procedure.
Getting Life Back
Shortly after Christmas 2010, Tom had the surgery. And just six weeks later, he was back at work. “Within a few months he was back to exercising and normal activity. He made an amazing recovery,” says Dr. Wagner. The following February, Tom attended the Texas Music Educators Conference. And today, he continues to do well.
Being physically fit and having a positive attitude went a long way to helping Tom overcome his cancer. The strong, loving support of family and friends also got him through this difficult time. And fortunately he found the right team at Scott & White Healthcare. Thanks to this advanced care from the right experts, Tom got back to conducting his life just as he always has.
(Left to right back row: T. Keller Matthews, MD, Anesthesiology; Ludvick Donnor, MD, Pathology; front row: Kristofer Wagner, MD, Urology; Tom Fairlie; Belur Patel, MD, Urology; not pictured: Barbara Weiss, MD, Internal Medicine)