Charlie Gallen

Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer Patient Stories

Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer

Life has not been an easy ride for Charlie Gallen. In 1975, at the age of 29, Charlie, a boilermaker, lost his arm below the elbow during a work-related accident. He recovered from the injury and learned to wear a prosthesis (an artificial extension of his arm) to retain some function of his arm and hand. Charlie, who was married with one daughter at the time, enrolled in welding school and became a full-fledged welder.

Almost 10 years later, Charlie suffered a cerebral aneurysm, which resulted in a stroke. Unable to return to work, Charlie filed for disability and has been unable to work since that time.

"Charlie's been through the ringer."

His wife, Marie, added that after the stroke, Charlie settled into his new routine, which included traveling, visiting the casinos and spending time with family.

In 2009, Charlie experienced severe pain in his left leg. An emergency room visit to his local hospital in New Jersey resulted in a one-week stay. After several tests, doctors were unable to arrive at a diagnosis. Charlie and Marie decided to seek the opinion of a vascular surgeon at one of Philadelphia’s large university hospitals. The surgeon suggested he insert a stent (to open a blocked vessel in his artery) during a minor surgical procedure.

During a pre-admission chest x-ray, the plans changed. Charlie's doctors noticed a suspicious spot on his lung. A PET Scan later confirmed the tumor and its precarious position.

"When we heard that word 'cancer' we knew where to go – right to Fox Chase."

"My sister had been treated at Fox Chase Cancer Center for breast cancer," shared Marie, who made an appointment for her husband with Walter Scott, MD, a thoracic surgeon at Fox Chase Cancer Center in Philadelphia. Dr. Scott is one of a handful of surgeons in the country who specializes in minimally invasive surgery called video-assisted thoracic surgery (VATS) to treat thoracic cancer.

"After meeting Dr. Scott and his nurse practitioner, Donna Edmondson, we knew we were in the right place" said Marie. “Everyone we met was so nice and helpful.”

"A minimally invasive approach (with tiny incisions, faster recovery and less bleeding, scarring and pain) is preferable for most patients, but especially Charlie, because the tumor was in his right lung - on the same side as his prosthesis," Dr. Scott explained. Prior to surgery, Dr. Scott ordered additional testing which confirmed the tumor was confined to Charlie's lung, which meant it did not spread.

Due to Charlie’s physical limitations, a major incision on his right chest would prohibit him from wearing his prosthesis because aside from the pain, his movement would be limited. By using VATS, the camera fit nicely between Charlie’s ribs. Because there was minimal chest wall trauma (the ribs were not moved to make room for the tools), he experienced much less pain following surgery than compared to open surgery.

Dr. Scott explained to the Gallens that the surgery would most likely involve the removal of the top of Charlie's right lung. “We were really nervous,” admitted Charlie. “But Dr. Scott used a new surgical tool and we were just blown away by the results.”

Charlie was referring to the ViKY Robot – a new surgical tool recently acquired by Fox Chase Cancer Center. After considering the delicacy of Charlie's condition, Dr. Scott took VATS one-step further. He introduced the ViKY robot to the VATS procedure for the first time. The combination of technologies safely speeds up the surgery and the patient is anesthetized for less time.

“The ViKY robot is used to assist the surgeon by holding laparoscopic equipment perfectly still during the entire surgery,” Dr. Scott explained. “I control its movements through a foot pedal. The camera stays clean, is held motionless and is reliable during a lengthy procedure.”

"We couldn't believe how amazing Charlie looked the night of his surgery," shared Marie. "He was up talking and in very little pain." Charlie, who stayed in the hospital for 3 nights, was extremely pleased with the outcome of his surgery. "I had a very small incision and not many stitches. My recovery went perfectly well, I mean perfectly."

"I am so thankful we went to Fox Chase and to Dr. Scott." 

Charlie recovered within 2 months and was able to resume his daily activities. “I’m afraid to think what might have happened if we stayed at our local hospital," said Charlie. "The doctors and nurses at Fox Chase are the best.”