October 09, 2017
Cordotomy offers cancer pain relief in time for Boot Walk
BY Meagan Raeke
On Saturday, Nov. 12, 2016, Kimberley Berry arrived at MD Anderson in her cowboy boots and Team Berry T-shirt, along with a dozen of her family and friends. Together, they raised $6,000 and were all set to support Kim in the inaugural Boot Walk, a fundraising walk to support MD Anderson’s mission to end cancer.
The only problem was that Kim’s upper thigh started to hurt. It became so painful that she asked for a wheelchair, but the staff inside MD Anderson’s Emergency Center urged her to check in instead. As Kim’s family and friends walked in her honor, she was admitted to the hospital.
Debilitating cancer pain
Kim survived a throat cancer diagnosis in 2014, then was diagnosed with squamous cell carcinoma in 2016. Her previous cancer treatments left her ineligible for additional chemotherapy or radiation therapy, but she did qualify for an immunotherapy clinical trial involving the drug pembrolizumab. In December 2016, Kim started the clinical trial under the care of Shubham Pant, M.D.
While the drug began to kill and contain the cancer, it didn’t help the intense pain near her groin, where the tumor had grown. Over the next several months, the pain that started on the day of the Boot Walk became so great that Kim could barely walk. She was prescribed pain medicines and went to physical therapy twice a week at MD Anderson in Sugar Land, yet the pain persisted.
“On morphine, my only options were to be in pain or to sleep all the time,” Kim says. “On dilaudid, my pain was never below a six. I was miserable.”
She had a nerve block done, but the relief didn’t last long, and the pain soon returned.
Pain relief from cordotomy
In September 2017, Kim checked into MD Anderson, in agony. This time, she saw Lakshmi Koyyalagunta, M.D., in Pain Medicine, who referred Kim to neurosurgeon Ashwin Viswanathan, M.D., for a neurosurgical solution to her cancer pain.
Cordotomy is a minimally invasive neurosurgical procedure used to treat cancer-related pain. The procedure is performed using real-time CT guidance to ensure precision and safety. During a cordotomy, a neurosurgeon places a radiofrequency probe into the main pathway that carries pain signals within the spinal cord. The probe is then heated to interrupt the pain pathway.
“I was awake the whole time,” Kim says. During the procedure, she responded to Dr. Viswanathan’s questions about exactly where she felt pain, so that he could target the appropriate pathway.
“The relief was instant,” Kim says. “Those two hours changed my life. I felt like I could get off the table and walk down to recovery.”
Walking, dancing and boot scootin’ again
The day before her cordotomy, Kim’s pain was at an eight or nine. Walking a few feet from her hospital bed to the bathroom was slow and painful. A few hours after her cordotomy, Kim and her mother were dancing down the hallway.
“Before, I could barely walk,” Kim says. “The next day, I was literally dancing. I’ve got moves. I can get down, girl!”
She’s looking forward to busting out her moves – and her boots – at MD Anderson’s second annual Boot Walk on Saturday, Nov. 11. Team Berry is full of energy and support for Kim, and she’s excited to actually walk with her family and friends this time.
As she continues to give her cancer the boot, Kim says, “I’m more myself than I’ve been in months. I feel like a million bucks.”
Register for the 2017 Boot Walk to End Cancer.
Request an appointment at MD Anderson online or by calling 1-877-632-6789.
I feel like a million bucks.