Staying Fit Through Recovery: How one father made it through renal cell cancer

As a geriatric nurse, Barry Rossell, 51, routinely takes care of patients at a local retirement community. He was not prepared to become a patient himself, however, when his doctor diagnosed him with renal cell carcinoma.

Three years ago, Rossell, 51, first developed a stomach ache, but he initially chalked it up to gastrointestinal issues. When the pain kept lingering, tests and scans revealed something extremely rare for his age—malignant tumors on both kidneys. Rossell says he felt devastated.

“It was so baffling to me,” he says. “I have never been a smoker or a drinker. I watch what I eat, I exercise, and there has never been a history of cancer in my family. I even went through genetic testing and found that I carry no trait for anything like this.”

Rossell broke the news to his four children who rallied behind him. He decided to keep a calm mind and focus on beating cancer.

“I became determined to try and do something with myself, since I knew it would all come to an end if I didn’t get some kind of treatment. I also decided that all I can do is continue on: continue to be a nurse, continue to do the things in life that I enjoy, continue to be a father. I don’t dwell on my situation or my condition. I just hope for the best, and that’s where I turn my focus—on beating this cancer and doing what I can do.”

In 2014, Rossell’s urologist, Dr. William “Rusty” Shappley III, performed a robotic partial nephrectomy, a surgery that removed part of his left kidney.

According to Shappley, renal cell carcinoma is the seventh most common adult malignancy in men and ninth in women. It accounts for two to three percent of adult cancers and typically presents in ages 60 through 80. It has a higher rate of presentation in patients who smoke, have a high BMI, and have poor blood pressure control.

Shappley says, “Barry has done exceedingly well from his procedure, which I believe is a testament to his general physical fitness and overall excellent health. Unfortunately, some patients without risk factors still develop cancers, and Barry is a man in excellent physical health who still had a rare presentation. His situation is a humbling and psychologically disconcerting reminder that there will always remain aspects of our existence beyond our control.”

After his surgery, Rossell was back at work in less than one month. Two weeks after that, he was cleared to resume working out at the gym, something he has done since playing football in high school. He started out slowly but soon built up his weightlifting and cardio.

“Fitness is important; it keeps me well grounded and helps me maintain a positive mental attitude.”

Barry says, “Fitness is important; it keeps me well grounded and helps me maintain a positive mental attitude. I lift light since I’m in my 50s and I try not to stress my joints. I enjoy working out with my youngest son and fit in at least four nights a week.”

During his workouts, he says he tries to hit every muscle. He works on upper body strength two to three times per week and targets lower body muscles two times per week. This time of year, he enjoys running outside and gets in two to three miles each day. When the weather turns rainy, he hops on the treadmill.

For now, Barry’s cancer remains stable, although there’s still a tumor within his right kidney. He is currently planning a cryoablation procedure, which uses extreme cold to destroy the tumor.

He says, “All in all, I thank God for how He has dealt with me and allowed me to keep a calm mind and easy approach. I have lived a decent life and learned the value of hard work, and I accept life and its challenges.”

“Everybody’s story is going to be different. For me, whatever it is you’ve got to deal with, you focus on the now, and you try to take each day at a time. Don’t sit around and waste those days worrying about what’s going on. Some things you can’t change. I take one day at a time and embrace it.”

By Jennifer Brezina. Photos by Edward Kolton.

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