When Louise Taglieri, 71, felt discomfort in her abdomen, she later learned she had a hernia. What she didn't expect to hear was that a prior scan of her abdomen showed a cancerous nodule in the lower part of her lungs. Fortunately, it was slow-growing, and thanks to the expertise of Hackensack University Medical Center's thoracic surgeons, she now has no evidence of lung cancer.
The initial scan that showed the tumor was a CT scan performed when she had a lap band inserted in 2012 to lose weight. No one thought much of it: it had a "ground glass" look, and doctors were not concerned. She had the lap band removed at Hackensack University Medical Center in April 2017. A year later, when she learned she had the hernia, scans showed that the tumor was still there and was slowly growing.
"Of course it was a surprise to me, and I may never have known about it if I wasn't having other tests for the hernia operation," said Louise. She had been a smoker in the past but hadn't touched a cigarette in over 30 years.
In 2020, she visited thoracic oncologist Harry D. Harper, MD, at John Theurer Cancer Center at Hackensack University Medical Center. He ordered a PET scan, which shows tumor activity in addition to anatomy. The results suggested that the tumor was cancerous but slow-growing — findings that would be confirmed upon biopsy. Dr. Harper referred Louise to thoracic surgeon Nabil P. Rizk, MD, who told her she could have the surgery using a robotic-assisted approach.
At John Theurer Cancer Center, surgeons try whenever possible to remove lung cancers using minimally invasive robotic surgery. Our thoracic surgeons perform more than 80 percent of procedures using such minimally invasive approaches, which result in smaller scars and a faster recovery. Many lung surgeries in the United States are performed by general surgeons. At John Theurer Cancer Center, board-certified thoracic oncology surgeons perform these procedures — and they do so two at a time, combining their expertise to perform the operation.
On July 9, 2020, Dr. Rizk made five small incisions in Louise's chest to position the surgical robot. Operating the robot from a console, he performed a "wedge resection," removing the 2.3 cm tumor and a wedge-shaped portion of the lung around it, leaving the remaining lung tissue intact. It was a stage IA tumor, the earliest stage of lung cancer, which is associated with an 85%-100% cure rate.
Louise stayed in the hospital one night and had excellent pain control. She was able to return to her home in Hoboken the next day, where she lives with her husband, Michael. "The length of stay after this procedure at other hospitals across the country is typically three of four days, but at our hospital, we have refined our procedures so patients can usually go home the same day or the next day," said Dr. Rizk.
"They took such good care of me," said Louise. After her follow-up appointments, she was told she didn't have to come back for six months. "I thought they said six weeks, but they told me, 'You're going to be fine!'" she added.
Today Louise occasionally feels some tenderness in the surgical area, but otherwise feels great. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, she misses not being able to play slots at Ocean Casino in Atlantic City, seeing her three adult children and six grandchildren, or taking an annual trip with family and friends to Aruba. But she feels grateful her tumor could be surgically removed so easily and that she is in good health. And she's grateful to her medical team at John Theurer Cancer Center. "From the minute you walk through the doors at John Theurer Cancer Center, it's spectacular," she asserted. "I have felt so well cared for, and I felt safe."
Find out more about Hackensack University Medical Center’s Lung Cancer Screening Program: