Accessibility

I want to find

Close

A Full Life After Liver Cancer

A powerful partnership helped a Short Hills man survive – and thrive – after his diagnosis.

You might call Kelly Marx an ironman. At the age of 85, he has stared down cancer, and won. He credits his recovery to his own medical “dream team,” highly skilled surgeons from Saint Barnabas Medical Center (SBMC), an RWJBarnabas Health facility, and Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey, the state’s only NCI-Designated Comprehensive Cancer Center.

Looking at Kelly—slim, elegant and handsome—you’d never guess his age. He had a successful career running his own business, Clinton Milk Co., located in Newark, not far from his home in Short Hills. The company processed milk from Garden State dairy farms and distributed it throughout the state.

In retirement, Kelly and his wife are a close, fun couple who enjoy staying active and traveling. They spend part of every winter in their “happy place,” St. Bart’s in the Caribbean. But that trip had to be put on hold this past winter.

In August 2018, Kelly saw a gastroenterologist for a minor problem he’d been having with irregularity. “I had an MRI and the radiologist found a little ‘blip’ on my liver,” he says. “That’s what started this ball rolling.” He had a liver biopsy and was shocked to learn he had cancer.

“I’d had no discomfort. I felt terrific,” Kelly says. “But my doctor said, ‘In six months to a year, you probably would’ve had a lot of pain.’”

LIVER CANCER ON THE RISE

An estimated 42,000 people in the United States are expected to be diagnosed with liver cancer this year, according to the American Cancer Society. The incidence is on the rise as more Americans are diagnosed with conditions affecting the liver, including hepatitis C and fatty liver disease.

Kelly was referred to surgical oncologist Russell Langan, MD, Surgical Director of the Comprehensive Liver Center at SBMC, who is also affiliated with the Rutgers Cancer Institute.

“I knew right away I was in excellent hands,” Kelly says. “Dr. Langan explained everything clearly. He said removing the cancer offered my best chance for a full recovery. I wanted to do whatever I could to beat this.”

However, in the course of medical testing, doctors saw indications of plaque blocking some of his arteries. Though in a perfect world cancer surgery would be done right away, in Kelly’s case he would need treatment for coronary artery disease before he could have his tumor removed. To address the delay, Dr. Langan devised a three-point treatment plan. The first step would be transarterial chemoembolization, or TACE, a type of therapy that slows a tumor’s growth while a patient awaits a liver transplant. The next step would be a cardiac revascularization to clear the blocked arteries. Only then, once he recuperated, would Kelly have the tumor removed.

CUTTING-EDGE THERAPIES

Pondering his options, Kelly sought a second opinion from H. Richard Alexander, Jr., MD, Chief Surgical Officer at Rutgers Cancer Institute.

“Meeting Mr. Marx, I was impressed by how active and vital he is,” notes Dr. Alexander, who was in favor of the treatment plan. “The data are very clear that TACE can be effective in slowing a tumor’s growth for a period of up to four months,” says Dr. Alexander. “This would give Mr. Marx the opportunity to have his cardiac issue addressed, then move on to surgery when it was safe.”

In early October, Kelly started his treatments at SBMC. He underwent TACE, in which a catheter is used to deliver chemotherapy right to the tumor. Blood vessels feeding the tumor are embolized, blocking blood flow.

A few weeks later, Kelly had cardiac revascularization. Three stents were placed in his arteries, and he took blood thinners for the next month.

Finally, the week after Thanksgiving, Kelly’s liver tumor was removed using a procedure called parenchymal sparing surgery that is available only at centers that offer cutting-edge therapies. Dr. Langan performed the procedure, with Dr. Alexander assisting.

“The more of the liver you remove, the greater the risk to the patient,” explains Dr. Langan. “By using a more modern technique, the liver is approached three-dimensionally. With ultrasound, we precisely map out the tumor’s location, as well as the location of major blood vessels and bile ducts. We essentially split the liver into three planes to remove the tumor. In Mr. Marx’s case, we got all of the tumor and a clear margin, while only removing 20 to 30 percent of his liver.”

BACK TO THE BEACH

Discharged after eight days in the hospital, Kelly recovered quickly at home. Soon he was back on the treadmill. He and his wife were able to go to St. Bart’s in March.

Kelly was pleased that he could have all of his surgery at SBMC, enabling him to get state-of-the-art care close to home. “We’re fortunate to have such great doctors right here in New Jersey,” he says. “The way they work together as a team is amazing.”

“When Dr. Langan used the words ‘cancer-free,’ that was the most wonderful thing we could hear,” says Nancy Marx. “With all my husband has faced, he’s come through like a champ. Ironman, Miracle Man—whatever you want to call him, he’s very strong.”

To learn more about cancer care at Saint Barnabas Medical Center, visit www.rwjbh.org/beatcancer.