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COVID-19 forces postponement of Lancaster man's cancer surgery


William Hillegas of Lancaster

Surgery to remove a small cancerous growth on William Hillegas’ adrenal gland will have to wait.

The scope-assisted abdominal surgery the 68-year-old Lancaster resident needs is an example of the non-urgent operations hospitals have postponed to reserve ventilators and supplies for the care of patients with COVID-19.

A scan detected the cancer last month. In normal times, Hillegas, a retired telecommunications consultant, could have expected to wait four to six weeks for the elective surgery at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore.

But now the operation, involving a scope and three small incisions, can’t even be scheduled there.

Hillegas checked with other hospitals in the region. It was the same story.

“I fully understand,” said Hillegas, who since February 2018 has undergone chemotherapy and two operations for lung cancer.

Hillegas said he follows the news closely and knows his need for hospital care doesn’t compare to the dire circumstances of many afflicted by the deadly virus.

“I’ve gone through the complete range of emotions: anger, fear and worry,” Hillegas said.  “But this is nothing. I beat (the cancer) twice. I’ll beat it a third time.”

With surgery unavailable, Hillegas plans to schedule a second scan. If it shows the tumor has grown, he may opt for chemo.

Hillegas thinks the country failed to anticipate and plan for a pandemic of the current magnitude.

“We can’t change the past, but we can certainly improve the future,” he said. “Let’s take these lessons and learn from them.”