Susie Skipper knew that she wasn't imagining her debilitating back pain, but doctors had been unable to pinpoint the cause. In a car accident six months earlier, the Sykesville, Maryland, resident had suffered whiplash and a minor concussion, but that couldn't account for the excruciating pain that had her walking the floor every night unable to sleep.
Despite physical therapy and a consultation with an orthopedic specialist, the pain continued to the point where it overshadowed everything in the busy grandmother's life. It wasn't until she began to lose the feeling in her foot and leg one night that her family doctor sent her to the emergency room at the local hospital, Carroll Hospital Center, where an MRI was performed the next morning.
Sitting alone in the hospital room that day, she was stunned by the news that the doctor delivered. She wasn't sure what she expected to hear -- maybe a fracture in her spine -- but the word "cancer" certainly wasn't it. The MRI showed that her symptoms were due to a tumor that was pressing on the nerves of her spine. The local physician recognized that more specialized care was needed.
Skipper's physician called Maryland ExpressCare, a service that provides around-the-clock access to attending physicians at the University of Maryland Medical Center. She was rushed by ambulance to the University of Maryland Greenebaum Cancer Center, and within an hour was being evaluated by Dr. Barry Meisenberg, head of the division of hematology/oncology at UMGCC and professor of medicine in the University of Maryland School of Medicine. He noted that she was rapidly losing function in her legs and that she would need emergency surgery to save her ability to walk. She was seen by Dr. Jason Lifshutzassistant professor of neurosurgey and a specialist in spinal cord injury. Dr. Lifshutz operated on her within the hour.
"They had to shave part of the bone in my spine to remove the tumor," explains Skipper. She still has some back pain and temporarily wears a brace to stabilize her vertebrae while the bones heal and fuse -- but it's negligible compared to what she lived with prior to the surgery.
Dr. Meisenberg developed a plan of follow-up care to treat Skipper's cancer. She had two chemotherapy treatments at the UM Greenebaum Cancer Center, and now continues her treatment at the community hospital a short drive from her home.
Skipper notes that dealing with the physical part of having cancer wasn't as bad as she had anticipated. The upbeat 60 year-old credits a positive attitude and laughter as a big part of her recovery process. "I've had some side effects, but I have to honestly say that it wasn't that bad. I've been very lucky."
Dealing with the emotional shock of her illness was a far greater challenge. And, while she now continues her care closer to home, she swears by the caring, gentle approach to treatment shown to her by Dr. Meisenberg and the team at UMGCC. "I love Dr. Meisenberg," she says. "He always had time to talk to me. He really cares about you -- and it shows."