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Mahony Has Successful Surgery for Prostate Cancer

Medicine: The 62-year-old archbishop is expected to recover within weeks and might not need additional treatment, doctors say.

June 16, 1998|DOUGLAS P. SHUIT | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Cardinal Roger M. Mahony underwent successful surgery for a cancerous prostate gland Monday, just hours after celebrating Mass in downtown Los Angeles.

Mahony's physicians emerged from surgery predicting that the 62-year-old archbishop of Los Angeles will be fully recovered within weeks, with a possibility that he may be able to avoid future cancer treatments.

His physicians at the USC/Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center and Hospital based their optimism on a belief they had caught the cancer early enough to contain and remove it.

"It went very well. We had no unexpected complications," said Dr. Donald G. Skinner, describing the surgery. "At this point in time, everything is about as good as could be."

Monday morning, the archbishop celebrated a 5 a.m. Mass at St. Vibiana's rectory in downtown Los Angeles, where he makes his home with several priests, said the Rev. Msgr. Kevin Kostelnik, Mahony's secretary. The Mass was dedicated to all the sick and suffering in Southern California.

The surgery, called a radical prostatectomy, began at 7:45 a.m. and was over by 9:20 a.m.

The procedure was once considered highly risky, according to Dr. Eila Skinner, who assisted in removing the cancerous prostate gland. But medical advances in recent years have removed most of the risk, said Skinner, who is not related to the surgeon who performed the operation.

"It now has become a very safe operation that we can do without a lot of risk," she said.

Just before the surgery, Mahony was confident enough to tell Kostelnik that he planned to meet other patients.

"Tomorrow, when he begins to walk," Kostelnik said, Mahony wants to "extend his greetings, his prayers, and his best wishes with other cancer patients."

There has been an outpouring of prayers and concern for the cardinal, Kostelnik said. A message from Pope John Paul II read in part, "I wish to assure you of my fraternal support and closeness in prayer."

Donald Skinner said it would be Wednesday or Thursday before the diseased gland and surrounding lymph nodes, which also were removed, could be examined to determine if further treatment is necessary.

Radiation or other cancer treatments could be necessary once pathological tests are completed. "But based on what we found today I feel very optimistic that . . . he will not require any additional treatment," Skinner said.

"There are no signs of any extension [of the cancer] outside the prostate itself," Skinner said.

Skinner said early discovery of the cancer helped Mahony immeasurably. The cancer was detected during a standard blood test recommended to all men over 50.

The physician said, however, that the nature of prostate cancer was that it could return any time over the next 10 to 15 years.

The American Cancer Society estimates that 184,500 men in the United States will be found to have prostate cancer this year, and about 39,200 of them will die of the disease.

Mahony, head of the largest Roman Catholic archdiocese in the nation, spent weeks in spiritual preparation for the surgery. Last Thursday, he received for the first time the sacrament of the anointing of the sick at a special service at St. John's Seminary in Camarillo attended by 175 priests. The name of the sacrament, once called extreme unction, was changed in the 1960s because it had become so closely identified with last rites. On Sunday, Mahony visited sick priests. And then he celebrated Mass on Monday morning.

"He's had a wonderful, powerful spiritual experience with many people throughout the archdiocese in Southern California the past week," Kostelnik said.

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