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Lana Guerro

Lana Guerro

“There’s no words for all that Dr. Saldinger has done for me, you know, taking care of everything. He always made me feel that everything was going to be fine.”

Lana Guerro was in bliss. The 29-year-old newlywed was pregnant with her second child when she had a strange bout of what she thought was morning sickness.

“I started feeling really sick, and I thought it was just morning sickness. But it didn't feel very normal,” she says. Concerned about persistent stomach pains, Lana decided to go to the emergency department at NewYork-Presbyterian Queens. When an ultrasound was performed, doctors found a tumor in her pancreas.

“It was very scary. I had heard that pancreatic cancer is one of the fastest growing cancers. It’s very quick and aggressive,” she says. “I immediately thought, ‘Okay, I have cancer. I'm pregnant, and maybe they're going to tell me I need to have an abortion because I need to go into some sort of treatment.’”

Lana was immediately referred to Pierre Saldinger, MD, FACS, chair of the Department of Surgery and surgeon-in-chief at NewYork-Presbyterian Queens. “When I had met Dr. Saldinger, he asked me, ‘What do you want to do?’ He gave me my options, which I was grateful for.”

Dr. Saldinger had a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) test performed to determine if Lana’s tumor was an aggressive cancer. Based on the MRI results, he believed the tumor was not aggressive. With that information, Lana and her husband worked with Dr. Saldinger and her obstetrician to devise a plan to carry her baby to term.

“This was the hardest thing, for me. I had just found out I was having a boy. I was already thinking about names,” she recalls. “I was thinking, ‘Am I not going to see my sons grow up?’ I thank God for my husband because he has been the best at this. He always said, ‘Don't worry, we'll see what happens. You know, God will take care of everything.’”

The doctors continued to monitor the growth of the tumor. At about 30 weeks pregnant, an updated MRI scan showed what the radiology technician thought was significant tumor growth. Lana was told she needed to go to Dr. Saldinger’s office immediately, as she might need to be induced.

“We planned that if in August, it was growing, then I would have to be induced,” she says. “I was afraid because I worked for the Early Intervention program, which is an agency that does evaluations for little kids; so I knew a little bit about having an early childbirth and all of the health concerns that can come from it and the lungs and all these different things.”

But when she arrived at the office, Dr. Saldinger told Lana the reading was incorrect. The tumor hadn’t grown. Lana went home, and on October 14 — his due date — she gave birth to an eight-pound, six-ounce baby boy that she named Nathan.

To give Lana time to recoup from childbirth and bond with her son, Dr. Saldinger waited four months to remove the tumor. As time drew closer to Lana’s surgery date, she grew anxious about the possible outcomes.

“I thought the worst; I've never had surgery. So I was like, ‘I am not going to handle the surgery. It's going to be too much for me,’” she says. But with much convincing from her husband, Lana underwent surgery, which lasted about eight hours. When Dr. Saldinger removed the tumor, which was about 6-8 centimeters in size, he determined it was a solid pseudopapillary epithelial neoplasm (SPEN) – a rare form of pancreatic cancer which if not caught in time could have grown to become a life-threatening problem. Dr. Saldinger told Lana there was no specific reason she developed this cancer and this type of cancer. He also noted that this type of cancer typically is found by chance because the tumor doesn’t have associated symptoms. He suspected Lana’s pain was probably related to something else.

Since the surgery, Lana’s life has normalized — she cares for her two sons as she awaits the birth of her third child. She says she is grateful for the life-saving treatment she was offered by the doctors and nurses at NewYork-Presbyterian Queens.

“There’s no words for all that [Dr. Saldinger] has done for me, you know, taking care of everything. He always made me feel that everything was going to be fine,” she says. “The nurses were just awesome. They helped me breathe through anxiety attacks and were just super attentive. Even my sister was like, ‘Man, I would love to be a nurse like you.’ Because they came all the time to help, for any little thing.”