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At her annual gynecologic exam in February 2009, Sue Volpe mentioned that her periods were a little heavier than usual and that she occasionally skipped a month. Since Sue was 47 at the time, the doctor suggested it may be the start of menopause - or something else. He offered to perform an endometrial biopsy, which is a simple procedure that often results in some cramping. Sue went home to think about it. Several months later, after the symptoms persisted, she decided to have the biopsy. "One week later, my doctor called to say I had stage II endometrial cancer," she recalled. "I reached for a pen and paper because I knew that I would not remember another word he said."
Sue shared the news with her husband immediately. Her doctor said her cancer was curable with a total hysterectomy - but if it had spread, further treatment would be required. "I told my husband we can cry today, but tomorrow, no more crying," shared Sue, who wanted to accept the news and take action. Sue and her husband have two boys, age 18 and 20, and she had been with the same doctor since before they were born. He explained that the hysterectomy would require an incision in her belly, a 2 day hospital stay followed by a 6-8 week recovery.
"I always thought that if I was diagnosed with cancer I would go to Fox Chase Cancer Center."
"Although I was comfortable with my doctor, I always thought that if I was diagnosed with cancer I would go to Fox Chase Cancer Center." The following day, Sue made an appointment with Mark Morgan, MD, a gynecologic surgeon at Fox Chase Cancer Center, for a second opinion.
"Dr. Morgan came highly recommended."
"Dr. Morgan had performed hysterectomies on a couple of my friends, so I knew he came highly recommended," Sue explained. After reviewing the slides from Sue's biopsy, Dr. Morgan re-staged the cancer as stage I. "He agreed that I needed a total hysterectomy and asked if my doctor explained my options."
Sue didn't realize there were options for a total hysterectomy other than traditional, or open, surgery. Dr. Morgan explained that Sue was a candidate for a da Vinci® robotic assisted surgery, a minimally invasive technique with many benefits. Sue was really convinced when she learned that she would have 5 tiny incisions rather than the traditional belly incision; and that the surgery is less invasive and results in less bleeding, less chance of infection, quicker recovery (2-4 weeks) and a one-night stay in the hospital. Dr. Morgan asked Sue to think about her decision.
"It was a no-brainer for me so I called Fox Chase the next day."
"Why would I want to have a large incision and take 6-8 weeks to recover when I had the option of tiny incisions and the ability to resume my life in 2-4 weeks?" asked Sue. "It was a no-brainer for me so I called Fox Chase the next day to schedule my surgery with Dr. Morgan."
Dr. Morgan performed the da Vinci robot assisted hysterectomy in September 2009. In the recovery room, he shared the good news with Sue - the cancer was confined and had not appeared to spread.
"I was amazed that I had surgery and felt as well as I did. I got up and walked with my nurse that night - and later was texting my husband!" shared Sue. The next morning, she ate breakfast, walked a few more times and was discharged after lunch. She admitted that her abdominal area was a little sore, but not nearly as painful as she believes it would have been with a traditional hysterectomy. Sue began telling her family and friends that the surgery with the da Vinci robot was the only way to have surgery. She described it as a miracle.
In 1980, Sue had donated a kidney to her sister and had to undergo major surgery with a large incision. "That was painful," she admitted. "This surgery was so much easier for me. I told my friends that I would rather have a robotic total hysterectomy again than have a root canal."
Although Sue missed her son's high school football game later that week, she made it to all of his other games. "Their team didn't do that well, but I was sure happy to be in the stands cheering for him every week. I owe that to Dr. Morgan and the da Vinci robot." Sue quickly returned to the things she loves, including line dancing lessons with her friends.
"By going to Fox Chase for the second opinion, I was able to make the best decision for me."
At Sue's follow-up appointment she learned that her pathology report came back clean and she did not require further treatment. She is thankful to have caught her endometrial cancer early - mainly because she recognized a change in her cycle. "By going to Fox Chase for the second opinion, I was able to make the best decision for me," Sue said. "Dr. Morgan and all of the nurses at Fox Chase were fantastic. And the da Vinci robot is an awesome tool. I have a lot to be thankful for."