Cancer-Free in Hours

Cancer-Free in Hours

When Lana Engler, 40, went through a series of blood and imaging tests, she was optimistic that whatever was causing her symptoms could be easily remedied.

But on November 6, 2018, Lana, a single mother of a 10-year-old boy, heard one of the most dreaded words in the English language: cancer.

“It literally rocked my world,” she says. “The diagnosis was completely unexpected.”

For several months last year, her obstetrician-gynecologist monitored Lana’s health. She’d been experiencing abnormal vaginal bleeding and cramping.

“I turned 40 and it all went downhill,” she laughs. “I felt something was wrong. And as a working mother, you don’t always follow your instincts. But I didn’t push it aside. I knew it wasn’t normal.”

A practice supervisor at The Vascular Center, Lana was diagnosed with endometrial cancer, a type of cancer that starts in the uterus. This was on a Tuesday. She says she didn’t plan on addressing the life-altering diagnosis until the following week so she could get over a busy hump at work and process the news.

“When [my doctor] said the word, I don’t remember the rest of the conversation,” she says. “I was completely overwhelmed. I had no idea what I was going to do.”

But because of the team at St. Luke’s, Lana didn’t have a chance to be overwhelmed or at a loss for words very long.

“My doctor called me at 4 p.m. At 4:45 I received a call from the surgeon’s office,” she says. “I was going to go home and sulk. I wasn’t planning on diving into this at all that week.”

On Monday, November 19th, just 13 days and one snowstorm-delayed surgery later, she was cancer-free. Ten days after that she was back at work. 

Lana and her healthcare team chose treatment via robotic surgery (see Man O/R Machine below) to remove her uterus, cervix, ovaries, and fallopian tubes.

Although she wasn’t sold on robotic surgery right away, the gynecologic oncologists she worked with, Scott Purinton, MD, with whom she consulted, and Rick Boulay, MD, who performed the surgery, were confident in their abilities and the effectiveness of the technique.


Lana, says Dr. Purinton, was an ideal candidate for this type of surgery.

“She had a diagnosis of grade 1 endometrial cancer, which is the most common diagnosis we treat,” he continues. “Most, if not all, patients can be treated in a minimally invasive fashion.”

A huge benefit to the robotic approach is the recovery time, says Dr. Boulay. Because the incisions are smaller, recovery time is generally shorter and less painful. Patients are also discharged within hours or a day, he says.

“Patients will tell us, ‘You did such a good job!’ and I say, ‘I didn’t do it, the robot did,’” Dr. Boulay laughs. “The technological advances are really palpable.”

The week following Lana’s successful surgery she reported discomfort on her right side to Dr. Boulay. That spot was the “human port,” he explained. In other words, out of her five small incisions, the one where she felt more pain was created for human hands, which normally causes more pulling.

“If I had felt this discomfort in the other four incisions, I would have had a totally different recovery. I would have had a lot more pain and not been back at work so quickly,” she says. “I can’t speak more highly of robotic surgery.”

Lana, like many women, she suspects, are not aware of this type of surgery, and she’s trying to change that.

“Other women [in similar situations] would benefit from robotic surgery,” she says. “I’ve had seven or eight major surgeries since I was 16 and this was the best experience I’ve ever had.”

Lana also wants women, especially mothers, to advocate for themselves when it comes to their health. “I knew something was wrong, but I didn’t know what. If I had let it go, I would have been in a different scenario. The cancer could have spread outside of the muscle and maybe I would have needed radiation. If something isn’t right, see your doctor. Make time for yourself.”


The daVinci console is a robot assistant used in minimally invasive surgeries. It’s made up of three components: a surgeon console where the surgeon controls the robot; a patient-side console, which has arms to hold the surgical instruments; and the monitor console, which shows the surgeon everything going on inside the patient via high-definition, 3D imaging.

Robotic surgery has been around for several decades, but the technology has gotten much better, says Rick Boulay, MD, the gynecologic surgeon who operated on Lana Engler. The components that make robotic surgery less painful and reduce recovery time are the machine’s calibration—the instruments don’t pull on the incision spots—maneuverability—surgeons can work these instruments into tiny nooks and crannies—and the high-definition, 3D imaging, which gives surgeons better visibility inside their patients.

“We want to get our patients back to living more quickly,” says Dr. Boulay.

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