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Published on November 16, 2017

Jo Froegel

Less pain, shorter recovery

Robotic surgery helps gynecologic cancer patients get back to living life

After Jo Froegel was diagnosed with uterine cancer in February, she began a treatment plan that included surgery to remove her uterus, fallopian tubes, ovaries and some surrounding pelvic lymph nodes.

As someone who enjoys being active and spending time outdoors—especially taking care of her garden—Jo wasn't looking forward to a lengthy recovery after surgery. She soon learned that she needn't worry about being off her feet for long.

Gynecologic surgeon Dana Benden, MD, performed Jo's surgery in March with Gundersen's robotic da Vinci® Surgical System, which enables surgeons to perform complex and delicate procedures through very small incisions with unmatched precision. The minimally-invasive technique means that patients experience less scarring, less pain and shorter recovery times, among other benefits.

"I had very little pain," Jo says. "I was tired, but the pain was amazingly minimal."

In fact, the pain was so slight that Jo went grocery shopping the following day—something she hadn't expected to be able to do so soon after the procedure.

While robotic surgery allows patients to recover faster and with less pain, different methods also can help surgeons more precisely pinpoint the most important lymph nodes to check for cancer, allowing them to remove fewer than with open surgery.

"The most important reason for the surgery is to remove the cancer, but it also is necessary to look at surrounding lymph nodes and make sure the cancer hasn't spread," says Dr. Lori Weinberg, a gynecologic oncologist and gynecologist.

Dr. Weinberg specializes in diagnosing and treating all types and stages of gynecologic cancers, including cervical, endometrial/uterine, ovarian, vaginal and vulvar cancers, as well as premalignant conditions that lead to gynecologic cancer.

The pain was so slight that Jo went grocery shopping the following day—something she hadn't expected to be able to do so soon after the procedure.

She works closely with Dr. Benden and her other partners in Gynecology, as well as Gundersen radiation oncologist Patrick Conway, MD, and a multidisciplinary team of cancer specialists, to develop treatment plans for patients, perform in-office procedures and minimally invasive surgeries, evaluate progress and offer medical guidance.

"I get involved in the care of women with reproductive cancers from day one. I stay involved through the whole process involving surgery, chemotherapy and/or radiation and palliative treatments. I also help coordinate the care of patients who are being treated with chemotherapy closer to home," says Dr. Weinberg.

Jo's surgery last spring revealed cancer in several of her pelvic lymph nodes, which were removed. This finding led her to start chemotherapy several weeks later. Jo's cancer is now gone, but to help prevent a reoccurrence, she began radiation treatment earlier this fall.

Having her daughter, April Anderson, by her side throughout treatment and working with her team of specialists has made her journey easier, Jo says. "Everyone has just been wonderful. If I ever have any questions, I can ask.

If the person I ask doesn't have the answer, they will find somebody who does," she says.

Jo is hopeful for what the future holds—and looking forward to experimenting in her garden again next year.

"That's my thing to do," she says. "I change it up every year. This year I did tomatoes and green peppers and onions and flowers all around the house. I plant different things every year to see what works."

KNOW THE SIGNS

Gynecologic cancers have varying symptoms. Some of the most common include:

  • Cervical: Abnormal vaginal bleeding or discharge.
  • Ovarian: Abnormal vaginal bleeding or discharge; feeling full quickly or having difficulty eating; pain or pressure in the pelvis; a more frequent need to urinate and/or constipation; feeling bloated; pain in the abdomen or back.
  • Uterine: Abnormal vaginal bleeding or discharge; pain or pressure in the pelvis.
  • Vaginal: Abnormal vaginal bleeding or discharge; a more frequent need to urinate and/or constipation.
  • Vulvar: Itching, burning or tender vulva; changes in vulva color or skin such as a rash, sore.

Contact your provider today if you have a suspicion of gynecologic cancer.