Hearing the words “you have cancer” is life-altering for most people. For Mindy Calisso, her diagnosis of a rare and aggressive type of thyroid cancer was the start of a life-long journey. She shares that journey with us, and how the team at Community Cancer Institute played a huge role in where she is today.

It’s been a difficult past few years for Mindy. In 2018, she was experiencing chest pain. An x-ray showed she had a mass in her sternum and thyroid. Mindy was referred to hematologist-oncologist Michael Moffett at Community Cancer Institute,and diagnosed with metastatic medullary thyroid cancer.

“It had spread to my sternum and my spine, and my liver, my lung and my hip,” said Mindy.

The tumor on Mindy’s spine was about the size of an orange. Mindy was introduced to radiation oncologist Dr. Nhat-Long Pham to address the pain.

The doctor said, “I recommended conventional radiation therapy to help with the pain, so that’s the most common treatment that we have.”

Dr. Pham said she went through ten treatments of conventional radiation in February of 2019. But six months later, Dr. Pham explained, “Her pain actually get worsened, and right around August if I remember correctly, and then we get a repeat MRI of the spine, and actually the lesion that we treat around the T4 showed that it’s progressing or it’s growing.”

“That pain was pretty unbearable… I stopped having feeling in my lower body, and so I knew that wasn’t normal. And then Dr. Pham referred me to Dr. (Nicholas) Levine for surgery,” said Mindy.

Neurosurgeon Dr. Nicholas Levine explains how the tumor was affecting Mindy’s neurological function.

He said, “Her tumor had grown into the epidural space, which is the area surrounding the spinal cord, it had diminished the caliber, or the size of the spinal canal, so the spinal cord was compressed.”

Dr. Levine performed surgery to remove the tumor from Mindy’s spine and surrounding areas, with the plan that she would be treated with CyberKnife sterestatic radiosurgery after.

“We used to try and remove every possible element of the metastisis because we didn’t have other options with respect to radiation. Now we have turned to more of a diminished resection, we provide just enough resection to safely proceed with radiation,” stated Dr. Levine.

Stereotatic radiosurgery, or the CyberKnife system as used at Community Cancer Institute, uses precise focused radiation beams to treat tumors.

Dr. Pham commented, “After the surgery, Dr. Levine discussed with me that, you know, even though he tried to get as much out, there is microscopic disease that has been left behind, so in order to try to control those, we need additional radiation.”

CyberKnife stereotatic radiosurgery uses 3D imaging to target high doses of radiation to the affected area with minimal impact on surrounding healthy tissues. Mindy continued her treatment with chemotherapy and Dr. Pham said recent scans have showed there is no more cancer. She credits the collaboration and team effort by her doctors for her survival.

“Life is precious and I think until you’re in a situation like this you don’t really see that, and I don’t think they get thanked enough… I want them to know that I’m here and I’m alive and I’m doing well, and I’m back to normal because of them,” ended Mindy.

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