Senator enlists robotic aid in cancer fight
Robert Bunda was treated in California with tools that are now at Queen's
State Sen. Robert Bunda underwent prostate cancer surgery Feb. 2 in Los Angeles with a robot that doctors are learning to use at the Queen's Medical Center.
Bunda, a former Senate president, returned Monday from California and was back in his office at the Capitol for a full day of work Tuesday.
He said someone forwarded him a copy of a Sunday Star-Bulletin article about a $1.5 million robot called "da Vinci" acquired by Queen's for minimally invasive surgical procedures, starting with prostate cancer cases this week.
"I thought, 'Holy mackerel, we should have had this in Hawaii eons ago,'" Bunda said. If so, he would have had his surgery here, he said.
The 59-year-old veteran lawmaker said he never had any symptoms of prostate cancer, but thought it was time for a complete physical, so he had a PSA (prostate specific antigen) test last November.
His PSA level was elevated but went down a few weeks later, he said. His doctor thought it was marginal, but rather than just "watch and wait," he said, "I decided a better way is to make sure nothing is happening."
A biopsy just before Christmas showed his prostate was cancerous.
"Luckily for me, the bone scan was negative, and luckily the bone scan to look at other organs in my body were negative as well. It was just confined to the prostate," Bunda (D, Kaena-Wahiawa-Pupukea) said.
His urologist presented a number of treatment options, including radiation, cryoablation (freezing the prostate tumors), regular surgery, proton radiation therapy and laparoscopic surgery with robotics.
After doing research on the all the options, Bunda said he decided on robotic laparoscopy, involving tiny incisions.
The procedure was done at the Minimally Invasive Urology Prostate Center at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles. The surgery was on Feb. 2, and he was back in the hotel by Feb. 4, he said.
He had to wear a catheter for a week, then was able to return home Monday.
"I had to buy this doughnut pillow," he said. "If not for the pillow, the flight would have been uncomfortable.
"Quality of life is a real big decision you have to make regarding this procedure," Bunda said, noting the two big consequences of prostate cancer surgery are urinary incontinence and impotence.
Advocates of robotic minimally invasive surgery for prostate cancer say the hospital stay and recovery time are shorter, there is less bleeding and pain, less incontinence and sexual function returns faster.
Surgeons who use the robotic system say its advantages include three-dimensional vision, increased magnification and instrument tips more flexible than hands.
Bunda hopes for positive results. "I feel good," he said. Meanwhile, he said all the pathology tests after the surgery showed the cancer did not spread and that he is cancer-free.
Bunda walks or runs four to five miles every day and considers himself in good shape.
"I'm an exercise buff," he said. Doctors told him he could resume walking three weeks after the surgery but not at a fast pace, he said.
A banker and insurance broker, Bunda had led the Senate since 2000 but lost the presidency this session to Colleen Hanabusa (D, Nanakulii-Makua). In retrospect, he said, "Maybe that's a blessing."
He said he will get checkups here and will go to Cedars again in March when his son, an 'Iolani School student, plays in a varsity baseball tournament in Los Angeles.