Family means everything to Deanna “De” Schoenbauer, 33. She takes care of sons Mikey, 7, and Luke, 5 while her husband Mike works at his family’s furniture restoration business. They love to swim, boat, and go to the beach, and spend a lot of time outdoors near their Southern Maryland home. They are close to extended family.
So when De found out she had early stage cervical cancer and needed a radical hysterectomy, initial moments of denial quickly gave way to fear, then reality. “When Mike and I got the news, at first I didn’t realize how serious the situation was. Then I looked at him and thought ‘wow — I don’t want to die — I need to be here for my family,’ ” she says.
As the surgeon to whom she had been referred laid out her options, she knew she needed to find the most effective treatment that would not disrupt her busy life, and minimize the time spent away from her boys. According to De, he told her that he would perform the hysterectomy “the old school way,” which meant an open surgery that, while effective, requires a large abdominal incision and a hospital stay of at least a week. He also told her about another option performed by a gynecologic oncologist at MedStar Washington Hospital Center, Jonathan Cosin, MD. Dr. Cosin could perform the procedure laparoscopically, using cameras and instruments inserted through tiny holes in her abdomen. This approach would significantly reduce her hospitalization and recovery time.
That this surgeon provided her an option that worked better for her family, even if it meant she would be treated by another doctor, won De’s respect and gratitude. “I love that he was completely honest with me, let me go my own way. He didn’t push me to do it his way or with him. I wanted to get better, but I knew I couldn’t spend a week or more in the hospital — my kids needed me at home,” she says.
De met with Dr. Cosin, who surprised her by recommending robot assisted laparoscopic surgery, which would require fewer than 24 hours in the hospital. “We’re fortunate that technological advances have given us so many options in the treatment of reproductive cancers,” says Cosin. While robotic surgery may not always be the optimal approach to treatment, he believes that every patient with cervical or uterine cancer should at least be considered for the procedure, and patients who are not offered it as an option should ask their doctor why. “It disrupts their lives so little compared to other procedures. There is less pain, less time in the hospital, and recuperation is faster. The patient can get better at home with their family, where they are more comfortable,” he adds.
To De, who had her surgery on May 14, her tenth wedding anniversary, the wonders of robot-assisted surgery are real. “They started at about three in the afternoon, and I went home the next morning.” Despite being in pain for a few days, De’s recovery was swift. Just three weeks following her surgery, she was off to Florida for a long-planned family vacation — in the car. When asked if it was uncomfortable to ride such a long distance after having surgery, she replied, “not at all.”