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Headaches, nausea, dizziness. Symptoms like these don’t seem so out of the ordinary for a mother dealing with the daily pressures of caring for a child with special needs. Luz Marina Knight was experiencing all three and thought it was probably just the stress of caring for her son, Kyle, who had been diagnosed with autism in 2005 at age 4.
Doctors told her she was experiencing migraine headaches, so she was referred to a neurologist for relief. But instead the symptoms intensified. Dizziness and nausea were so much a part of her daily life that she carried a bucket with her while driving.
It was when she started experiencing episodes of momentary blindness that she and her neurologist suspected something more serious was wrong. An MRI revealed a large, unusually aggressive tumor – a meningioma – was pressing on top of her brain, and as it grew and put pressure on the optic nerve, it was causing temporary blindness and severe headaches.
Her neurologist recommended immediate surgery to prevent permanent damage, and Knight grew fearful. “I was afraid that I wouldn’t be the same after the operation, that I wouldn’t be able to be a good mother to my son or that I would lose speech,” she said. “I even worried that my hair would not grow back.”
After the five-hour operation, Knight’s surgeon informed her husband that though the operation went well, the tumor was in a sensitive area so not all of it could be removed. He feared the tumor could spread, so more tests were required after her recovery.
“That night my husband asked the Lord for mercy,” she recalls. “He tells me that was the day he started to use Grecian Formula.”
Eight months later, Knight and her husband learned the tumor was indeed growing and a second operation would be required. “I was devastated with the thought of undergoing a second major surgery,” Knight said. “My poor hair was just growing back and I was already so tired caring for my son.”
The good news was the tumor was small enough to use a relatively new, less invasive surgery called CyberKnife.
Knight decided she wouldn’t surrender to the cancer, but she was wary of going through another surgery. “I knew that there were risks to the surgery, that a portion of my head would be shaved and that there was no guarantee it would cure my condition,” she said. “Then there would be a recovery period where my son would still need me.”
Her neurosurgeon, Dr. Steven Hysell, introduced her to radiation oncologist Dr. Douglas Wong, who explained the CyberKnife procedure. “Once I understood it, I knew that even though there were no guarantees, the operation would be less difficult this time and the chance for eradicating the tumor was greater than with conventional surgery,” she said. “With my knowledge and faith I was actually excited about the surgery.”
Knight, Dr. Wong, Dr. Hysell and the CyberKnife team began planning her treatment and details of her radiation delivery. During this process, a CT scan was performed to map Knight’s brain and the tumor, and a special mask was custom fitted for the CyberKnife procedure. During consultative visits with Drs. Hysell and Wong the surgery was explained in detail.
Over a five-day period using image-guidance and computer-controlled robotics, CyberKnife delivered radiation directly to the tumor in high doses. During the procedure more than 100 beams of high-energy radiation entered Knight’s head, attacking the tumor from different angles with sub-millimeter accuracy. Each session lasted only about an hour.
“To me, it is an amazing technology out of a science fiction movie,” she said. “It was always moving about as if it had an intelligence of its very own.”
Knight found the CyberKnife procedure was very different than her previous surgery, which involved drilling into her skull, one week in the intensive care unit and a three-month recovery. The procedure room was very comfortable and Knight said she was able to relax and listen to her favorite music.
“After five days, the CyberKnife surgery was completed, I only lost a small patch of hair and was I able to care for my son very soon after the surgery,” she said.
Four months later a follow-up MRI revealed good news – the tumor had shrunk and did not appear to be growing. She now needs only a periodic MRI to monitor the tumor.
This story was reported special by Suzanne Crosina-Sahm. She can be reached at MedWatchToday@communitymedical.org.