When Louis Battaglia experienced severe abdominal pain at his home in October of 2018, he thought it might be appendicitis. After a trip to the emergency room and months of doctor appointments, the pain persisted. It took a visit to a specialist at NYU Langone Hospital—Brooklyn to reveal a rare form of stomach cancer.
“I was told this type of cancer doesn’t get picked up so easily,” says Battaglia, 58. “Many people go years dealing with stomach pain without seeing a doctor, and sometimes it’s too late to do anything. I’m so grateful that wasn’t the case with me.”
At first Battaglia, a Brooklyn native, thought the cancer diagnosis might require months of chemotherapy or radiation therapy, but Camilo Correa, MD, told him a single surgery could make him cancer free.
Battaglia had a stage IV soft tissue sarcoma of the stomach known as leiomyosarcoma, which accounts for less than 1 percent of all adult cancers in the United States, according to the American Cancer Society. Though rare, the cancer is treatable when discovered early.
Dr. Correa, a fellowship-trained complex general surgical oncologist at NYU Langone Hospital—Brooklyn and NYU Langone’s Perlmutter Cancer Center—Sunset Park, performed a partial gastrectomy and liver resection to remove the cancerous tissue, using a combination of traditional and minimally invasive robotic surgery to reduce recovery time.
“It was a malignant tumor involving part of the liver,” says Dr. Correa, who completed a fellowship in complex surgical oncology at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center and conducted postdoctoral research on rare cancers of the digestive system at Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital. “We were able to completely remove the tumor, and he has been recovering exceptionally well without chemotherapy or radiation.”
Advances in Complex Cancer Detection
The gastroenterology team at NYU Langone Hospital—Brooklyn, led by Adam J. Goodman, MD, first discovered and diagnosed Battaglia’s cancer following months of visits with other doctors. An endoscopic ultrasound, or EUS, which uses a combination of video imagery and sound waves to pinpoint the size and location of the mass, was used before surgery. EUS can simultaneously obtain tissue samples for biopsy, reducing the number of diagnostic visits for the patient.
“Endoscopy ultrasound is just one of a sophisticated set of tools we use to detect and evaluate gastrointestinal malignancies,” says Dr. Goodman, section chief of gastroenterology and director of endoscopy and quality at NYU Langone Hospital—Brooklyn. “We also collaborate closely with our fellow colleagues in NYU Langone’s Perlmutter Cancer Center to determine the most effective treatments.”
Advances in robotic surgery systems have also enabled oncology surgeons to perform complex operations using minimally invasive techniques. “Technological advances have greatly reduced the necessity for major interventions that may cause postoperative complications,” says Prashant Sinha, MD, chief of surgery at NYU Langone Hospital—Brooklyn. “When we do not have to open the abdominal cavity, the small incisions heal more quickly and the patient recovers faster.”
For Battaglia, who went back to work in retail sales not long after surgery, says his brush with cancer changed his life—for the better. “Dr. Correa told me to take it easy, eat healthier, and quit smoking, so I stopped cold turkey,” he says. Battaglia, who once smoked more than a pack of cigarettes a day, used NYU Langone’s Tobacco Cessation Program at Perlmutter Cancer Center to manage his withdrawal and prevent relapse.
He is a devout member of St. Ephrem Church in Dyker Heights, Brooklyn, and credits prayer, his older sister Rose Mauriello, and the support of his coworkers at P.C. Richard and Son with helping in his recovery. He now wants to play a bigger role in supporting other people who have cancer by telling his story and attending group counseling. “I want to spend more of my time talking to people,” he says, recalling a lonesome neighbor who died at 60 from cancer. “The best thing we can do with the time we have left is try to treat each other with kindness and respect.”