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Patient, Surgeon Agree: “Life’s Too Important to let a Little Thing Like Cancer Get in the Way”

Oceanside, N.Y.— In the movie about his life, the mythical Forrest Gump said, "My mother always told me that life is like a box of chocolates, you don’t know what you’re going to get."

After all that Linda Southwick’s experienced the previous 11 months, she couldn’t agree more with those words of wisdom.

Last Summer Linda and her husband, Chris, decided that it was a good time to increase their life insurance policy so that their vivacious daughters, Meghan and Piper, would have a stable financial foundation to fall back on in the event of a tragedy involving their parents.

So, on a non-descript day in July of 2004, the couple had complete physicals to demonstrate their overall good health to qualify for the upgrade.

Approximately a day after the physical, Linda was informed that her blood test showed an abnormally elevated liver enzyme level. During a follow-up exam in August with her primary physician, Frank Coletta, MD, she reported some tenderness above her waist on the right side. Dr. Coletta ordered an abdominal ultrasound, which was taken in September and detected an abnormal mass in her liver. A subsequent MRI also picked up the suspicious mass. A follow-up CT-guided liver scan also showed suggestions of liver malignancy.

"The doctors couldn’t believe it was cancer because I was feeling fine and didn’t show any symptoms that would indicate cancer," she said. "I was frightened and in a little bit of shock."

At that point, surgery was prescribed. But, before the surgery could be scheduled, Dr. Coletta received a call in late October from a distressed Linda, who was experiencing severe pain just above the waist. He advised her to check into the nearest emergency room, which was South Nassau Communities Hospital.

Upon arrival, she was stabilized and admitted to South Nassau for overnight observation. The following morning, she consulted with Rajiv Datta, MD, Director of Surgical Oncology/Head & Neck Surgery at South Nassau. A native of India, Dr. Datta is one of the leading cancer surgeons in the U.S. Prior to joining South Nassau in 2001, he was Director of Surgical Oncology at Maimonides Medical Center in Brooklyn.

Previously, he had trained at some of the most prestigious surgical oncology and head and neck surgery programs in the world, including Tata Memorial Hospital, the largest cancer center in Asia; U.K.’s Royal College of Surgeons, where he achieved Fellowship; and Memorial-Sloan Kettering Cancer Center for a Research Fellowship. That was followed by a rare opportunity for a dual Fellowship in head and neck oncology and surgical oncology at Roswell Park Cancer Institute in Buffalo, New York.

During the consultation with Dr. Datta, Linda was informed that the tumor was a precariously large 18 centimeters. A week later, she met with Dr. Datta at South Nassau’s Cancer Center in Valley Stream for an in-depth review of the complex surgical approach he would use to remove the life-threatening tumor.

"After the first meeting at South Nassau, I was certain that Dr. Datta was right for me," Linda said. "The follow-up consultation and review of the operation at the Cancer Center only affirmed my feeling that my family and I were in the care of good hands."

On October 26th, Linda was admitted to South Nassau for a right hepatic resection (surgery to remove the right lobe of the liver). Due to the location of the tumor, which encased the hepatic (liver) veins, the complex and arduous operation took approximately six hours to complete. As Linda will attest, however, the operation was a small price to pay and a complete success. The tumor was completely removed by Dr. Datta, and Linda’s recovery immediately following the operation was uneventful, so she did not require care in the Intensive Care Unit and was released from South Nassau after four days.

It’s September 22, 2005 and Linda’s recovery is in full swing. Pathology reports show negative margins, with complete removal of the tumor. "Her recovery is progressing as we expected," said Dr. Datta. "With her good attitude and outlook, she will be fully healed and able to move forward with her life."

"I just take one day at a time," Linda says. "My family and I are still faced with uncertainty that we hope will be alleviated with each three-month CAT scan check-up that shows I am cancer-free."

"Chris and Meghan and Piper have been the backbone of my recovery, and my friends and family have been available for me at a moment's notice, too," said Linda. "I have maintained a strong, positive attitude and will remain that way. My life is too important to let a little thing like cancer get in the way."

South Nassau Communities Hospital is one of the region’s largest hospitals, with 435 beds, more than 820 physicians and 2,200 employees. Located in Oceanside, NY, the Hospital is an acute–care, not-for-profit teaching hospital that provides state-of-the-art care in cardiac, oncologic, orthopedic, bariatric, pain management, mental health and emergency services. In addition to its extensive outpatient specialty centers, South Nassau boasts Long Island’s first gamma knife and New York State’s first acute angioplasty program.

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