Lymphoma patient finds pain relief with spine jack vertebral augmentation
At home in Mansura, Louisiana, my life is all about my family. My husband and I are both retired, and we live next door to one of my daughters and her teenage children. We spend a lot of time watching their sports events and sharing meals a few times a week.
I’ve had back pain for as long as I can remember. It’s something I learned to live with. Or I did until July 4, 2020, when the pain in my back had me in tears. I never expected the pain to be caused by a tumor pressing against my spine.
Now, thanks to my MD Anderson care team and a revolutionary treatment, my back pain is gone, and I’m on the road to recovery.
Back pain leads to cancer diagnosis
For two weeks in the summer of 2020, I was in excruciating pain. It hurt just to lie flat. Moving was out of the question. I thought the pain might go away on its own, but when it didn’t, my local doctor performed an MRI.
The results showed mild incidental hydronephrosis of my left kidney. My doctor sent me to a urologist for further examination, which confirmed the inflammation was a lymphoma mass between my kidney and bladder.
By then, my pain was unbearable. I tried to get an appointment with a local oncologist for days with no luck. That’s when a friend suggested coming to MD Anderson. My husband and I made the five-hour drive to Houston the next day, and I cried the whole way because I was so uncomfortable – even with the help of pain medication.
Once I got to MD Anderson, I was admitted immediately and met my medical oncologist, Dr. Ranjit Nair, who confirmed my official diagnosis: non-Hodgkin T cell lymphoma.
Finding hope at MD Anderson
Dr. Nair started me on chemotherapy right away. Luckily, I was able to stay with my daughter and her family at their home in Katy, Texas. Some of my treatments were at MD Anderson West Houston, which meant I didn’t have to drive to the Texas Medical Center Campus.
I was scheduled to get infusions every three weeks. After the second round of chemo, we learned the tumor had already shrunk by 50%. The chemo was working. I completed six rounds of chemo before receiving radiation therapy under the care of Dr. Jillian Gunther.
Before radiation, I tested positive for COVID-19, and my care team took extra precautions to make sure I could still get my treatments on time without getting anyone else sick. I was nervous about some of the potential side effects of radiation, but I tolerated the treatment well and didn’t have any major side effects.
Spine jack augmentation offers pain relief
Although the tumor was shrinking, my back pain was still really bothering me. I learned the tumor had fractured my L-4 vertebrae, so Dr. Nair recommended I visit MD Anderson’s Pain Management Clinic.
That’s where I met Dr. Saba Javed, who suggested a unique treatment for my pain called spine jack vertebral augmentation. With this procedure, she said she could use a hollow needle to insert a miniature steel jack into my vertebra to provide height restoration – just like a jack used to raise a car.
From there, she’d fill the hollow space in the bone with cement to keep it from fracturing again. I learned that patients with blood cancers like lymphoma or leukemia often experience these kinds of fractures, and this procedure helps protect the bones above and below the fracture from the same kind of damage.
It may sound like a crazy treatment, but Dr. Javed is so knowledgeable. I trusted her without hesitation.
I went into surgery for my spine jack procedure on July 7, 2021. I felt better almost immediately.
Coping with side effects
Now that my back pain is mostly under control, I’m focused on managing the other side effects of treatment.
I didn’t experience much nausea during chemotherapy, but I did lose about 33 pounds. Dr. Nair referred me to MD Anderson’s Clinical Nutrition team, and they’re helping this Cajun learn to enjoy a more balanced diet with more vegetables and less sugar.
Now the only side effect I’m dealing with is changes to my hair from the chemotherapy. After a few chemo sessions, I noticed a lot more hair on the couch. At first, I thought my daughter’s family dog was shedding more than usual; then I realized it was my hair. We had a good laugh about that.
As my hair grows back, it’s a bit curlier than it was before my diagnosis. I joke that when I wash my hair I look like a poodle and when I dry it, I look like a cotton ball.
Finding the good throughout cancer treatment
I can’t say enough good things about my time at MD Anderson. From the valet attendants to the doctors and nurses, everyone treated me with respect and professionalism. I’m so glad I came to MD Anderson first.
Even though my time in Houston was marked by cancer treatment, I’m grateful for this unexpected time with my daughter and her family. My youngest grandson was just a few months old when I got diagnosed. He helped keep me company during the days I wasn’t feeling well. It was a blessing in disguise to get this time with him.
Now I’m back to being a full-time grandmother in Louisiana, going to my older grandkids’ sporting events and having meals with my family. I’m so grateful to my MD Anderson care team for giving me my life back.