Strawberry cancer surgery called uncomplicated success 16-inch section of bowel removed

cancer appears localized, but tests awaited


NEW YORK -- Darryl Strawberry, the 36-year-old New York Yankees outfielder, underwent what doctors said was a successful and uncomplicated three-hour operation to remove a cancerous tumor from his colon yesterday.

The surgical team at Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center in Manhattan, headed by Dr. George J. Todd, said it removed a cancerous tumor that measured 2.4 inches in length and that nearly blocked his intestine. There was no visible evidence during the operation that the cancer had spread beyond that area of the bowel, the doctors said in a statement issued last night.

But it will be about a week before the results of the key pathology tests are available. The find- Strawberry ings will determine what anti-cancer therapy the doctors will recommend for Strawberry after he recuperates from surgery. He was expected to stay in the hospital for one week.

The pathology findings will provide the doctors with information they need to stage, or classify, the severity of Strawberry's cancer and provide a statistical base for a long-term prognosis. Although Strawberry's wife, Charisse, had said the cancer was a favorable stage A or B, cancer experts said in interviews that there was no way to know the stage of the cancer until the final pathology tests were available.

The results of the pathologist's examination of the cancerous tumor and the other tissues removed are generally considered more important than the size of the cancer.

The doctors' statement that the tumor nearly obstructed the intestine would be a likely explanation for the abdominal cramping Strawberry had experienced in recent weeks. Abdominal pain is not a usual symptom of an early colon cancer.

The operation went smoothly, the doctors said, and afterward Strawberry was resting comfortably with his family at his side.

The cancer was located in the area of the large intestine known as the descending colon. After removing a 16-inch portion of bowel containing the cancer and the segment of normal colon to either side of it, the surgeons sewed the severed ends of the colon together.

As expected, the surgeons did not need to create a new opening through the abdomen, known as a colostomy, to eliminate wastes from the bowel. An ultrasound test performed during the operation showed no evidence of spread of the cancer to the liver, the doctors said.

During the next week, pathologists will add fixatives and chemical dyes to the removed cancer and tissues to make it easier to examine under a microscope. Pathologists can detect cancerous cells not visible to the naked eye.

Because several steps are involved in the preparation of the tissues, and it takes time for the fixatives and chemicals to act, it usually is about a week before such pathology tests can be completed.

Throughout the day fans stopped by Columbia-Presbyterian to check on Strawberry's condition.

Millie Casanova, 34, drove in from Ringwood, N.J., with her children, Andrew, 10, and Kelly, 12. Casanova described herself as a diehard Strawberry and Yankees fan.

"Darryl's whole life has been baseball," Casanova said. "He's been a great asset to the Yankees."

Strawberry's surgery dominated talk radio and filled the front -- and back -- pages of New York City's tabloids.

"You Gotta Believe," urged the New York Post's front page, taking a cue from the New York Mets' 1973 battle cry. Strawberry started his checkered career with the Mets in 1983 and is the only player to win World Series with both the Mets and Yankees.

"It's another hill to climb," Strawberry said Friday, wiping away a tear as he recalled the get-well video sent by his Yankees teammates. "They mean so much to me," he told ESPN from his home in Fort Lee, N.J. "I want them to know my heart is with them."

In Arlington, Texas, the Yankees had Strawberry's No. 39 embroidered onto their hats, and they watched a taped message from him before wrapping up a three-game sweep of the Rangers.

He told them: "Get going, beat them. He pointed at us and said, 'Do it!' The guys got a chuckle out of that," manager Joe Torre said.

Pub Date: 10/04/98

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