VATS Lobectomy: A Patient's Perspective

Mona FullerPneumonia isn’t usually something to be thankful for, but for Mona Fuller, 72, of Milton, Wisconsin, the illness was a fortunate one.


After completing her recommended dose of antibiotics, her follow-up x-ray revealed a suspicious lung lesion. Fuller went on to have a CT scan, and soon learned she had lung cancer.  Thanks to her pneumonia, the lung cancer was caught early. She recalls, "No one is happy to get pneumonia, but for me, it was a good thing."


Fuller came to UW Hospital in Madison to receive her treatment. UW Health cardiothoracic surgery recommended a video-assisted thoracoscopic (VATS) lobectomy to remove Fuller's tumor.


This minimally invasive procedure is used to treat patients in the early stages of cancer by removing the lobe of the lung containing the tumor. Generally patients who undergo the procedure have less pain after surgery and a faster recovery. 


During a VATS lobectomy, surgeons use video assistance to remove the lung tumor or diseased portion of the lung through four small incisions - three half-inch incisions and one two-inch incision.


The fact that this minimally invasive approach would mean that Fuller would not have to endure the painful rib spreading that occurs with conventional open chest surgery appealed to her. Both she and her family were pleased with how well the surgery and recovery went. She says, "I had surgery on Friday. By 9pm that night, I was out of recovery, and back home by Sunday afternoon. My family was amazed."


Not only was Fuller satisfied with the procedure and her short hospital stay, but the recovery went much better than she expected. Though she was prescribed pain medication, she did not feel the need to use it.


"I was a little uncomfortable and couldn't lie on my right side, but everything was so much better than I thought it would be," she explained.


Fuller also knew that if she didn’t need to take the pain medication, she would be able to get back to driving. Within a week she was back in her car, and was able to maintain her sense of independence as well.


Recovery and life has continued to go well. Fuller moved to Milton to be closer to her four children and grandchildren. She visits the oncologist every three months for surveillance screenings, but at this time is not undergoing chemotherapy. She is back to traveling - she enjoys going to Kansas to visit family members - and to stamping, a hobby she shares with her friends.


She was extremely pleased with her experience at UW Hospital. She noted that "the nurses and aides were all so attentive and nice."


When she was contacted to see if she would speak with a patient who was feeling apprehensive about the VATS lobectomy procedure, she was happy to oblige.


"I called the patient and we talked for quite awhile," she says. "It made her feel better knowing that I had such a good outcome."


The patient contacted Fuller after her surgery and thanked her again for sharing her experience.


"I was just so happy about my own experience, if I could help someone else hopefully have the same type of outcome, I was happy to do it," Fuller says.