“Thank God for a kidney stone.”

“I’m probably the only person who says ‘thank God for a kidney stone,’ because it discovered my kidney cancer before it metastasized.”

Michael, his wife, Diane, and their two grown children walking down the sidewalk together in the town of Middlesboro.
Michael, his wife, Diane, and their children, Benjamin and Sarah, take a walk in downtown Middlesboro.

On February 3rd, 2019, Michael Slusher became extremely sick at work. After attempting to drive home despite the pain, he ultimately decided to turn around and drive back to Middlesboro Appalachian Regional HealthCare—his hometown hospital, and where he works as the Community Chief Executive Officer.

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Middlesboro ARH was the first hospital opened in the Appalachian region, more than fifty years ago.

After originally thinking it could be his gallbladder, the emergency room team found that Michael had stones in both kidneys—as well as a mass on his left kidney. Michael was referred back to his primary care physician who ordered additional scans, which found the mass to be malignant. Michael had kidney cancer.

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Dr. Mohamed Shanshal, Michael’s physican in Middleboro’s ARH Hermatology/Oncology Department.

Michael knew he wanted a minimally-invasive laparoscopic procedure if possible: a surgery that involves much smaller incisions and a shorter recovery time. His doctors gave him two hospital options, and Michael chose UK HealthCare’s Markey Cancer Center—one of the top-ranked cancer centers in the country. Thanks to Middlesboro ARH’s affiliation with Markey Cancer Center, Michael was quickly referred to Dr. Andrew James, a surgeon who specializes in urologic oncology.

A portrait of Dr. James, a young-looking man with brown hair, dressed in blue scrubs, standing in a surgery room.
Dr. Andrew James is the Chief of the Division of Urologic Oncology at UK HealthCare’s Markey Cancer Center.

“We discussed my options thoroughly, and we went ahead and had the tumor removed on March 10th,” said Michael. “I had a really excellent experience. He did an amazing job with the surgery, and I was back to work within three weeks. I was really impressed by the urology residents as well as the anesthesia staff, they were top notch. They made me feel very comfortable. They were very easy to talk to.”

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Dr. James performed Michael’s surgery and is monitoring his follow-up care with Dr. Shanshal.

Michael’s surgery involved the removal of his entire left kidney, including the cancerous tumor. By opting for the laparoscopic procedure at UK HealthCare, Michael was able to spend only a day in recovery before he could return home to Middlesboro. His post-surgery care continued with Dr. James through UK TeleCare calls. Fortunately, the outlook for Michael is an optimistic one.

A landscape photo of Michael with his back facing the camera as he stands on a gated ledge that looks out over mountains and trees.
“If you put your finger on the map where Kentucky, Tennessee, and Virginia converge, that's Middlesboro,” Michael said.

“He’s doing great. His CAT scans didn’t show any recurrent tumor. We’ll obviously still keep an eye on things, but right now, he’s in a very good spot,” said Dr. James. He noted that finding kidney cancer the way Michael did isn’t uncommon—but it is lucky. “We actually see a lot of patients with kidney cancer, and most cases are asymptomatic and are found incidentally. But for all comers, the five-year survival rate is about 75%, so one out of four patients will die from it. It can be a very aggressive cancer.”

A close-up photo of a shelf featuring a framed picture of Michael and his daughter, mugs, baseballs and a certificate of appreciation.
In Michael’s office, there are many mementos of his family—the most important thing to him.

“I recognize how blessed I was, first, to get the kidney stone to diagnose the cancer,” Michael said. “Secondly, to get referred up to Markey Cancer Center and get an outstanding surgeon like Dr. James.

Michael and his family sit around a patio table as they drink coffee and talk.
Michael’s family was always on the forefront of his mind throughout his experience with cancer.

The decision was made last year for ARH to become a Markey Cancer Center affiliate and develop those relationships, so I got to know people there. I would have still selected UK HealthCare over my other option, but having those relationships certainly made it a more comfortable experience. I didn’t approach it with as much anxiety or fear.”

A photo of Michael speaking to Dr. Shanshal and two nurses inside Middlesboro ARH.
“I’ve been the CEO here for eleven years. It’s by far the best job I’ve ever had.”

Through Michael’s experience as a patient at UK HealthCare, he has seen firsthand the power of the strong relationship between Middlesboro ARH and UK HealthCare—which ultimately may have saved his life.

A portrait of Michael and Dr. Shanshal, posing with their arms crossed. Both are wearing masks.
Dr. Shanshal is helping monitor Michael’s follow-up care at ARH, while staying in close communication with Dr. James.

“Both of my parents died very young of cancer. When I got my cancer diagnosis, it was scary. I want to walk my daughter down the aisle. I want to hold my grandkids. I was worried throughout my experience, but I feel very blessed to have gone to UK HealthCare. We’re in a relationship business, that’s what health care is about. As a patient, I have an open relationship with my oncologist and my surgeon, and the oncologist and the surgeon have a relationship. The value of the network affiliate status between Middlesboro ARH and UK HealthCare is those relationships—to have a relationship with the outstanding staff at UK HealthCare.”

A landscape photo of Michael at an overlook, looking out across a view of the sky, mountains and trees.
Michael is relieved and grateful to continue living his life and leading ARH Middlesboro forward.

See how we care for patients like Michael

at UK HealthCare’s Markey Cancer Center.

Dr. Mullett smiles with his arms crossed.