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Breathing Easier...

Dennis Shank

Now retired from the Nevada County Dept. of Public Works, Nevada City resident Dennis Shank has focused more recently on rebuilding his health rather than roads. His cheerful demeanor belies the fact that he has been battling Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia, which this year was compounded by a lung cancer diagnosis. Because it was detected early, surgery was an option, but his case was not routine. When he was five, Dennis had received radiation treatments to his neck and chest for an ear and throat infection, which left his vessels and lungs delicate and difficult to dissect.

Dennis and his wife, Betty, thought he would have to go far afield for the sophisticated lung surgery he required. But his oncologist recommended that Dennis first consult with Dr. Royce Calhoun who had just joined Rideout Health after eight years at UC Davis, where he had been an Associate Professor of Surgery and Surgical Director of UCD Cancer Center's Thoracic Oncology Program. Dr. Calhoun, who did his cardiothoracic surgical residency at the world-renowned Cleveland Clinic, performed the first minimally invasive lobectomy for lung cancer in Northern California in 2006 and hundreds more since. The procedure, known as Video Assisted Thoracic Surgery (VATS), enables a surgeon to access the chest cavity without spreading or cutting ribs or cutting much muscle, allowing a much faster, less painful recovery instead of the three months usually required by traditional surgery.

When they met, Dr. Calhoun had just moved into his new office. Dennis recalled that the surgeon "had not yet unpacked, so he drew a diagram with a felt pen on a paper towel. He was very detailed in his explanation about how the surgery would go. He's full of humor. He lightens up the situation. His confidence filled me with confidence about the surgery."

Soon after that meeting, using the VATS technique he pioneered in the region, Dr. Calhoun performed the surgery to remove the cancerous lower lobe of Dennis' right lung with just four small incisions, each about an inch or smaller. Dennis was up and walking the same day. Two days later, he was home, with no activity restrictions. "If Dr. Calhoun says you can do it, you can do it, and I did." Three weeks later, Dennis and Betty were on their way to Arizona to root for grandsons Tyler and Logan in Chandler High's final game of the season. Life is back to normal in Nevada City, Dennis reported. "Betty organizes everything; I just bring in the wood."