Spine Cancer Treatment Stories

Spine Cancer

  • Maria

    Family comes first for Maria. With parents, two sons, and a granddaughter that Maria is very close with, she focuses her energies on keeping her family healthy and happy. That's why she didn't pay much attention to a slight pain she experienced periodically on the left side of her upper back area. If she became uncomfortable, she would reposition herself throughout the day. While over time the pain became more intense and more frequent, Maria continued to ignore it.

    That changed one day following an incident at her parents' home. Maria's father had fallen and she went to the house to help her mother lift him off the floor. As Maria was leaving, her father fell again and while she tried to catch him she fell down herself. Landing hard on her knee, she felt dizzy, with shooting pain in her upper back.

    When seeking treatment for her knee at the hospital, a CT and PET scan revealed a tumor on Maria's spine. While the diagnosis explained the pain Maria had been experiencing in her upper back, she was overwhelmed with fear by what this diagnosis might mean for her future.

    After further testing, doctors determined that Maria had a six-centimeter benign schwannoma tumor on her spine, just centimeters away from her heart. Because of its location, the tumor was inoperable.

    "My doctor explained that surgery could leave me paralyzed, or that I could experience severe bleeding in the operating room," said Maria.

    Stunned, Maria carried on through a series of appointments with different specialists seeking alternative treatment options. Then, in what Maria calls her miracle, she was presented with a noninvasive option – the CyberKnife® System at Newport Diagnostic Center.

    The doctor explained that the CyberKnife System offered non-invasive treatments, using targeted beams of radiation to destroy tumors. The precision of the CyberKnife treatment would minimize radiation exposure to surrounding healthy tissue. This feature was especially important in Maria's case considering the close proximity of the tumor to her heart. She was also told that if the treatment was successful, she would have a very good chance of avoiding future procedures.

    With the CyberKnife System offering more hope for successful treatment, Maria met immediately with Dr. Amanda Schwer, radiation oncologist at Newport Diagnostic Center/Hoag Hospital to review and prepare for her treatment plan. She completed five courses of CyberKnife treatments over a nine-day period.

    "I was able to undergo my CyberKnife treatments during my lunch hour and would then head right back to work. I was amazed that I didn't feel a thing," Maria said. "After work I was a little tired and took a nap, but otherwise there were no side effects. It was so convenient, and I felt great throughout the entire process."

    Following her CyberKnife treatment, Maria's tumor began to shrink and she has been pain free. Follow-up MRIs have shown that no disease is present, so she is no longer living with a terminal diagnosis.

    "My doctors could not believe my progress and kept asking me what I was doing to recover so quickly," Maria noted. "I took my health really seriously after my diagnosis and made sure to take good care of my body, including eating nutritious food and taking supplements."

    Today, Maria has a new perspective on life. She wants to help other people who, like her, are given a frightening diagnosis. She plans to volunteer at a hospice and is considering going back to school to become a physical therapist, so that she can help people recover from setbacks.

    "I would not be alive without CyberKnife. I firmly believe that it saved my life," Maria concluded. "Not that many people know about their treatment options and I want to help as many people as I can, who find themselves in similar situations."
    As of the creation of this patient profile, Maria found her CyberKnife treatment to be successful.

  • Valorie

    In February 1969, Valorie’s arteriovenous malformation (AVM) bled for the first time. She felt extreme pain on the back of her neck, her body shook with spasms for about an hour and the right side of her body went numb. Valorie’s parents thought she had thrown out a vertebra in her back.

    After several days with no improvement Valorie’s parents took her to see a chiropractor. The chiropractor suggested they see a neurologist. On Valorie’s 13th birthday she checked into the hospital and was put into a traction device to relieve pressure on her skeletal system. In the next week Valorie was given a spinal tap, which showed bleeding in her spinal cord, so the doctors suggested exploratory surgery. The doctors believed Valorie’s right side would be paralyzed for life. Valorie’s parents rejected exploratory surgery and took her home. Over the course of a year she recovered from the bleed and tried to live as normal of a life as possible, always with a dark cloud of uncertainty hanging over her.

    In March 1987, Valorie’s AVM bled for a second time. She was playing with her one-year-old daughter in the front yard when she felt a familiar stabbing on the back of her neck. She quickly called her family for help and laid down on the couch while her right side, once again, fell asleep. By this time technology had advanced and, once at the hospital, she was given an MRI. The doctors placed a cervical collar on her and put her on a steroid regimen. They said she had an inoperable AVM inside her spinal cord at C2 and C3 of her cervical spine.

    Valorie was told that if they attempted to remove the AVM the surgery would leave her paralyzed for life. She was told there was nothing they could do for a cure and that she would not regain use of her right side. She was advised not to get pregnant again, to keep her blood pressure down, and to avoid stress.

    For the next eight years Valorie lived in pain and her right side never fully recovered from the loss of sensation. She had constant headaches and an ache in her neck. She returned to Stanford Hospital as instructed for check ups, MRIs and angiograms.

    In May of 1996, Valorie had a third bleed. Like before, she experienced the same symptoms, was given the same tests and told the same diagnosis. Nothing could be done. While attending a meeting to discuss difficult and rare cases, John Adler Jr., M.D. viewed Valorie’s test results. For the first time in her life Valorie was offered a treatment for her AVM. Doctors told her about the CyberKnife® Robotic Radiosurgery System and its non-invasive treatment, and assured her that as soon as their System was up and running they would treat her AVM.

    The day finally came. On July 3, 1997, the doctors at Stanford began preparing for Valorie’s surgery. “My experience with the CyberKnife was awesome,” said Valorie.

    Valorie liked being able to watch the CyberKnife System at work. She didn't feel the radiation at all and the time passed by quickly. Her treatment was completed in just a few outpatient visits and she was able to get back to her daily activities right afterward.

    Valorie took it easy the next three years and experienced no side effects from her treatment. In August 2000, her MRI and angiogram showed 75 percent shrinkage in her AVM. The CyberKnife radiosurgery had worked but she still needed to get rid of that last 25 percent.

    The following month Valorie underwent a second CyberKnife treatment. Valorie felt completely confident in the team at Stanford and was grateful that the CyberKnife System was allowing her to live a normal life without fear of paralysis.

    It's been eleven years since Valorie’s first CyberKnife treatment, and eight years since her second treatment and she is doing great. Her follow-up angiogram showed a huge change in her spinal cord AVM. The shrinkage of the AVM has allowed her spinal cord to move back into a more normal position and the smallest and most dangerous feeder veins that were susceptible to bleeds are now gone.

    As of the creation of this patient profile, Valorie found her CyberKnife treatment to be successful.